June 6, 1944 will always be one of the most important dates in the history of the free world. If you’re younger, the 75 years that have passed may seem like a long time ago. But for those of us who have been around awhile, and who understand how quickly time passes, it’s a closer time than we’d like to concede.
I’ll leave it to the historians and commentators to educate us again about the importance of what happened that day. Undoubtedly they’ll focus on the big picture: what this effort meant to the Allies; the consequences if they didn’t succeed; the strategy and deceptions leading up to that day; the generals and political leaders who commanded this effort. All are very important in understanding this day’s significance, and I encourage everyone to watch and read about the special events and commemorations.
But when I think of this most incredible day, my mind goes to the thousands of young soldiers, sailors and paratroopers who were the ones heading into a type of danger most of us can’t even fathom. Many, like my father, volunteered after the attack on Pearl Harbor just two-and-a-half years earlier, but many more were drafted at the age of 18 starting in 1942. These are the young men I think of when it comes to the D-Day effort – the thousands of young men barely old enough to shave who were on those boats as they approached the coastline, or getting ready to jump off an airplane and parachute behind enemy lines.
Today, those young men who were 18 at the time – and survived – are 93 years old. We can’t know the scars, both physical and mental, that they’ve taken with them their entire lives. But we can honor their service, respect what they endured and appreciate their immense courage.
We owe a great deal of gratitude to all of the Allied soldiers who served in some capacity in World War II, especially those who faced a great demon on this day 75 years ago. I hope you will join me today in honoring their service, respecting their great accomplishment on our behalf and remembering their sacrifice.