80 Years Since D-Day: A Call to Preserve History and Honor Sacrifice


June 6 commemorates 80 years since American, British, and Canadian troops landed on Normandy’s coast in France, an event famously known as D-Day, marking the greatest military mobilization in history. According to The New York Times, fewer than 200 veterans of this pivotal World War II invasion are well enough to attend this year’s reunion in France.

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose team meticulously planned the operation for over a year, expressed that the soldiers stormed the beaches “not to gain anything for ourselves, not to fulfill any ambitions America had for conquest, but to preserve freedom.”

Eisenhower understood the gravity and challenges of the mission. Failure would have significantly delayed Allied efforts to defeat Nazi Germany, leading to the further extermination of millions of Jews and the loss of countless soldiers.

Leaders like Winston Churchill and President Franklin Roosevelt believed the D-Day invasion was crucial for the flourishing of freedom and the preservation of Christian civilization, which values the dignity and respect of all people.

Before the invasion commenced, Eisenhower inspired the brave soldiers by calling their mission the “Great Crusade” and stating that the “eyes of the world are upon you.” He concluded with a plea for divine blessing on their noble endeavor.

The battle was indeed brutal. Over 4,400 Allied soldiers out of the 156,000 deployed from the United States, Great Britain, and Canada lost their lives, and 10,200 others were injured, including 6,600 Americans. The waters of Normandy ran red from the blood spilled, as veterans later recounted.

Forty years later, during the 40th anniversary of D-Day, President Ronald Reagan honored those who fought at Normandy, particularly at the perilous Pointe du Hoc:

The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or on the next. It was the deep knowledge — and pray God we have not lost it — that there is a profound, moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt.

He continued:

You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One’s country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you.

However, despite this mission’s significance, its memory fades with each generation.

President Reagan warned us of this in his 1989 farewell address to the nation: “You know, four years ago, on the 40th anniversary of D-Day, I read a letter from a young woman writing to her late father, who’d fought on Omaha Beach. Her name was Lisa Zanatta Hehn, and she said, ‘We will always remember, we will never forget, what the boys at Normandy did.’”

He added, “Well, let’s help her keep her word. If we forget what we did, we won’t know who we are.”

Unfortunately, we are not keeping our word. For example, one poll found that 12 percent of Americans wrongly believed Dwight Eisenhower fought in the Civil War, which ended 25 years before he was born, rather than leading the D-Day invasion! Even more concerning, another survey revealed that only 43 percent of Americans know the true significance of Memorial Day. These unfortunate statistics highlight the consequences of inadequate American history education in schools.

This is deeply troubling. It’s perhaps time for us, as parents, to heed another piece of advice from President Reagan’s farewell address: “An informed patriotism is what we want. And are we doing a good enough job teaching our children what America is and what she represents in the long history of the world? All great change happens in America at the dinner table. So, tomorrow night in the kitchen I hope the talking begins.”

This is the motivation behind my book, Toward a Perfect Union: The Moral and Cultural Case for Teaching the Great American Story, which aims to equip parents to educate their children about the heroism of the men who stormed the beaches and scaled the cliffs of Pointe-du-Hoc to defend freedom. If we fail to impart this knowledge, the freedom for which they valiantly fought will fade from memory. Thus, 80 years later, let’s commit to remembering the history of D-Day.

Tim Goeglein
Tim Goeglein
Timothy Goeglein was special assistant to U.S. President George W. Bush and Deputy Director of the White House Office of Public Liaison from 2001 to 2008. In January 2009, Goeglein became the Vice President of External and Government Relations for the Christian Organization Focus on the Family.

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