It’s June 6, 1944. America still sleeps but will soon wake to the news that Allied forces have landed across a fifty mile swath of beach in a place called Normandy, on the northwest coast of France. D Day and Operation Overlord have begun.
Under the cover of misinformation and secrecy, General Eisenhower and Allied commanders have moved an armada of 5,000 vessels, 11,000 aircraft and 150,000 men across the English Channel in an audacious move to bring victory in Europe and the end to Nazi tyranny.
The first hours of the invasion will bring significant casualties to combined Allied forces with 10,000 killed or wounded as troops storm the heavily fortified beaches of Juno, Omaha, Sword, Gold and Utah. The beaches are thick with barbed wire, fortifications and traps. But there’s no going back, nowhere to hide, nowhere but forward. Live or die as the day and the day after and the weeks and months grind on.
The enormity of what a generation that fought and bled across Europe and the South Pacific did for us is a black and white memory, a grainy newsreel image to those born after it all ended. By this time last year, less than a half million World War II veterans were still alive. In their late eighties and nineties, they’re leaving us at nearly 400 a day.
With them will leave the last living witness to a time when America was one country united under one grand purpose, pulling together for victory against tyranny. Not inviting it to pull up a chair at our national dinner table.
We must not lose them without thanking them, without talking to them and letting them tell us what it all meant. We must do for this for them. And for us.
Interested in volunteering to meet and help our veterans? Contact the Stratton VA Medical Center in Albany, NY, the Disabled American Veterans organization or volunteer for the Capital Region Stand Down, October 18 in Latham.
Plan a visit to the National World War II Memorial, Washington, DC and the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial, on the National Mall in Washington, DC.