Seventy years ago, Dwight Eisenhower told American troops, “The eyes of the world are upon you.”
On Friday, those same eyes were on the 150,000 troops who spearheaded Operation Overlord on D-Day. Some left in the early morning hours from England by plane. Most of them made up the world’s largest amphibious attack in history.
All of them put their lives on the line and charged directly through fortified lines of German troops.
What was intended to be three days of fighting lasted almost three months. German General Erwin Rommel was away on leave – reportedly celebrating his wife’s birthday - and Adolf Hitler misinterpreted the intent of the attacks, allowing the Allies to secure all five beaches that were targeted in the operation in about a week.
That allowed for the landing of thousands of military machines to join the battle and led to the eventual liberation of France from German control.
It was a terrifying and bloody battle and that was no surprise to planners. More than 30,000 stretchers were in place to treat the wounded and carry the dead.
More than 9,300 American soldiers may be found in their final resting place on in a cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach.
As our remaining World War II veterans are leaving us at an alarming rate, you have to wonder if today’s America that their courage and resolve helped create could recreate the mission today.
Do we have the courage to plan a mission that could potentially claim the lives of thousands of our soldiers?
I can’t imagine what it was like jumping out of those boats and wading the last few hundred feet up that beach and racing toward bunkered snipers and heavy war machines firing directly at me. But thousands of young men grabbed their guns and raced through a hail of bullets to find and kill their enemy. They weren’t defending Chicago or Los Angeles. They were defeating an evil enemy on behalf of an ally in a foreign land.
Even those who weren’t sacrificed were willing to sacrifice themselves for the cause of freedom.
It was noble, courageous and selfless.
It is still inspiring.
As those 150,000 troops were preparing to liberate France, Eisenhower told them, “"The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory.... We will accept nothing less than full victory!"
On his command, they boarded the boats and made a charge that changed the history of the world forever.
If you know any of these men who served in World War II, buy their dinner and listen to their stories. But more than that, learn from them about what that sacrifice meant and why they were willing to make it.
We can learn a lot from this fading generation, but courage and sacrifice may be the most important things they can pass down to us.