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Our View: Those who fought on D-Day deserve our gratitude

Published: Friday, June 6, 2014 12:30 a.m. CDT

Seventy years ago, men sat in boats, or planes, and headed toward France’s Normandy coast.

What courage it must have taken. They knew what likely awaited them – and they moved forward anyway, because they knew no action would result in something far worse for the world, and sacrifice was required to achieve the desired result.

June 6, 1944, is known as D-Day. It’s the day thousands of troops from the Allied Forces stormed into western Europe with the aim of wresting control away from Adolf Hitler and the Axis powers.

Imagine what the world might be like if they hadn’t found the courage.

The war didn’t end that day – it took until 1945 for that. But the foothold those brave men gained that day led to the eventual surrender of the Axis powers.

For the first time in a long time during World War II, the day was a beacon of hope.

And the cost for that hope, as in all wars, was great.

The D-Day invasion force included more than 5,000 ships, 11,000 airplanes and more than 150,000 servicemen, according to the website for the National D-Day Memorial.

“After years of meticulous planning and seemingly endless training, for the Allied Forces, it all came down to this: The boat ramp goes down, then jump, swim, run, and crawl to the cliffs,” the history portion of that website reads. “Many of the first young men (most not yet 20 years old) entered the surf carrying eighty pounds of equipment. They faced over 200 yards of beach before reaching the first natural feature offering any protection. Blanketed by small-arms fire and bracketed by artillery, they found themselves in hell.”

When it was over, there were nearly 10,000 Allied casualties, with more than 4,000 confirmed dead, according to the D-Day Memorial website.

“Yet somehow, due to planning and preparation, and due to the valor, fidelity, and sacrifice of the Allied Forces, Fortress Europe had been breached.”

These people were part of the Greatest Generation, a term coined by journalist Tom Brokaw in a book of the same name. He wrote that this group of people was “the greatest generation any society has ever produced” and argued they fought because it was “the right thing to do.”

In a world where we are frustrated by a slow Internet connection, and where putting the needs of others before our own isn’t prized, their enduring legacy is a lesson we all should remember.

Most of those who were part of the D-Day invasion, or who served in World War II in general, are no longer with us. But despite their passing, what they did, what they put on the line and gave up, cannot be forgotten.

Famed war correspondent Ernie Pyle surveyed the carnage on the day after the invasion and wrote eloquently of the scene, “so that you can know and appreciate and forever be humbly grateful to those both dead and alive who did it for you.”

They deserve our gratitude, still, now and forever.

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