When the United States put its young men ashore on D-Day 75 years ago, they were not alone.
Although Americans remember Omaha Beach, where some of the toughest fighting occurred, there were other beaches where other young men died.
Many of those fighters for democracy came from the United Kingdom and Canada, but there were also Free French and Poles in exile who were among the combatants. They are also part of the story memorialized by the National WWII Museum in New Orleans.
By mid-1944, after years of combat and human sacrifice — not least, of course, by millions of Russians in the eastern snows — Germany’s bid for world conquest was on the ropes. With all the risks of such a complex and extraordinary undertaking, with General Dwight Eisenhower drafting just in case a statement of responsibility for failure, victory in Europe was in sight. But many more were destined to die before it could be achieved.
The hammer blows against the Reich on the Normandy beaches, and in the air and from the sea, were each part of one of the largest military operations ever mounted by mankind. Every Allied nation that had suffered during the war wanted in.
The presence of Belgian or Dutch soldiers or sailors, or Polish or Czech airmen, represented more than just brave fighting men.
They wanted to be there for their oppressed countrymen and for the larger world, a statement that their nations would rise again. On that day 75 years ago, the phrase “the free world” took on a more profound meaning that has perhaps eroded a bit lately but should always be in our minds on such an anniversary.
This is an opportunity to remember the sacrifice and honor of individuals, some of whom are still living among us, and the dramatic innovation of America’s arsenals of democracy, as in New Orleans’ Higgins boats that hit the beaches of D-Day.
There should also be reflection upon the common cause that led young men and women to join the colors and don uniforms for their country over conflicts that would have seemed distant and not very important to most Americans just three summers before.
Among the infamous remarks during the slide toward war in 1939 was that of Neville Chamberlain, who said of the partition of Czechoslovakia that it was a dispute in a faraway country "of which we know nothing."
That was a discredited statement long before young men saw the ramps of the landing craft go down and the bullets and shells fly among their comrades in Normandy.
Today we often treat events beyond America’s borders as Chamberlain regarded Czechoslovakia, even though with modern communications, it seems we know everything at the touch of a button.
The world, and America’s place in it, is more important than that. What we need to remember is that we were not alone 75 years ago, and the spirit of common cause ought not be lost.