D-Day: In Commemoration—May We Ever Remember, and Never Forget!
By Ken K. Gourdin
Today is D-Day, the 69th anniversary of the landing of Allied forces on the beaches of Normandy, France, during World War II. I was struck by the commemoration of the event recorded by Brigham Young University Professor Dan Peterson at Patheos: see http://www.patheos.com/blogs/danpeterson/2013/06/the-longest-day-a-day-that-we-should-never-ever-forget.html (last accessed today). Professor Peterson notes that President Franklin D. Roosevelt had no qualms about explicitly invoking the blessings of a Higher Power (indeed, of God!) on the nation as a whole. Back then, there were no militantly atheist organizations to get all up-in-arms about this “blatant violation” of the separation of church and state. I was going to write a post in commemoration of D-Day, but I don’t think I can improve on what the good Professor has already said.
Instead, my thoughts turned to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his speech before the British House of Commons in 1940. “We shall never surrender!” was his unforgettable refrain. Here, I think, is the “money quote” from the Prime Minister’s remarks:
[We are determined to] ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone. . . . Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields, and in the streets; we shall never surrender! and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the new world, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.1
When Churchill uttered these words, it was not yet clear to much of the world how serious a threat the German Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler really posed. There was an isolationist strain of thought here in the United States of America, as many people felt that this country could afford to divorce itself from the abstraction of what was happening “over there” in Europe. It would be another eighteen months before the horrific events at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii would jar the United States and her citizens from this sense of complacency and would impress upon us—indelibly—the true nature of the very existential threat posed by the Axis Powers, Germany, Italy, and Japan, not only to Europe and not only to the United States, but, indeed, to the entire world.
While my mother and father have had a chance to visit the beaches of Normandy and the resting place of the many who died there, I have not. I am told that it is an opportunity that should not be missed. While much of Europe has a reputation for being rather disdainful toward the United States and its citizens, I am told that this is not the case for people such as the man who guided my parents’ tour of this sacred spot of French ground. I hope, one day, to be able to experience that “lack of disdain” and that sense of gratitude firsthand. (It’s on my “Bucket List.”) While my maternal grandfather did not fight at Normandy, he was a World War II veteran, and I shall forever treasure my close link to “The Greatest Generation”—but two generations removed.
I don’t think that that generation had a full appreciation for the magnitude of what they would accomplish while mired in the conflict, and members of that generation have tended to downplay the enormity of that accomplishment even in hindsight.2 I wish, though, that my own generation was a bit less self-absorbed; a bit more willing to sacrifice for a good cause; a bit more willing to put others and their welfare ahead of their own. There is a proud tradition of military service encompassing three generations of my family. Were it physically possible, I would have liked to make my own contribution to that legacy. But I do have an enormous sense of gratitude and respect, both for those who have served in the past and for those who serve today.
Thank God for visionaries like President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Deepest thanks and respect to The Greatest Generation—to its British Contingent, to its American Contingent, and to our other Allies who sacrificed so much so that I could have so many of the blessings I enjoy today. I stand on the shoulders of giants. May we ever remember, and never forget!
- Winston Churchill (June 4, 1940) Speech before the British House of Commons, accessed on line at http://www.winstonchurchill.org/learn/speeches/speeches-of-winston-churchill/128-we-shall-fight-on-the-beaches on June 6, 2013
- On the tendency of those who accomplish unusual acts of bravery to downplay their role in such acts, see Ken K. Gourdin (May 31, 2013) “On the Real Meaning of Heroism,” https://greatgourdini.wordpress.com/2013/05/31/on-heroism/, last accessed June 5, 2013.