Seventy-Five Years Later: Reflecting on the Heroes of D-Day

On June 6, 1944, nearly 160,000 Allied troops landed along a heavily fortified, 50-mile stretch of French coastline in the historic operation known as D-Day. [Photo from the U.S. Dept. of Defense]

Tuesday, June 6th, 1944 is one of the most consequential dates in all of human history. On that day, the liberation of Europe from Nazi occupation took a massive step forward. In the dark of the night, Allied forces under the command of General Dwight D. Eisenhower commenced the most complex and daring military operation in history. That day tens of thousands of American and Allied troops gave their dying breath to rid the world of the evil and tyranny that had engulfed it. Their success, and the courageous fighting in the days and months to follow, led to the defeat of Hitler and the restoration of freedom.

Now, seventy-five years later, we remember the success, the bravery, and the losses of the landings on the beaches of Normandy and paratroopers dropped in behind enemy lines. I was deeply honored to attend the D-Day remembrance ceremonies in Normandy at Omaha, Juno, and Utah beaches. Being in the very hallowed ground where such bravery and heroic efforts took place was awe-inspiring. It was also an incredible honor to be able to shake the hands and embrace some of the surviving heroes and thank them for their extraordinary feat and sacrifice.

Standing on the sand where one of the greatest fights for freedom ever took place made me think of the heroes of that day like Henry DuBay of Gilbert, Arizona who piloted C-47 troop carriers, which dropped thousands of Allied paratroopers behind enemy lines. I also had the high honor to meet Arizonan George Cross, one of those very paratroopers, who parachuted in at dark to fight, disrupt and confuse the Germans and preserve key transportation infrastructure. He joined the Army at 17 and told me the harrowing story of how after landing, he linked up with others who were scattered across the country side using clickers. Many perished in the jump and units were broken up so they had to be innovative to survive, fight, and meet the objective.

Henry, George, and the thousands who fought in Normandy and beyond against evil and tyranny certainly personify “The Greatest Generation.” We must never forget the extraordinary effort of all those who answered the call, many of them just teenagers, to fight and win this noble battle. Our world, as it is known today, would likely not exist if it weren’t for the sacrifice of those who fought on the beaches that day.

In his speech to the troops on the eve of D-Day, General Eisenhower said “I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty, and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory.”

The heroes of that campaign embodied those words and fought until full victory was achieved, the Nazi regime was defeated, and the concentration camps were liberated. It is our calling to remember the stakes of this fight and the sacrifice of those who gave their all on the beaches and fields of Normandy that day. They turned the tide in favor of freedom and justice, and away from evil and tyranny. I will be forever changed by my deeply moving visit – the scenes, the memories, the stories, and the riveting conversations with those who fought there seventy-five years ago. I encourage everybody to take a moment and reflect on this momentous week in history and read about the heroes of that day and the days that followed. We must never forget the bravery and sacrifices they made for us.