An Open Letter to the Men of D-Day

Did you ever think about 80 years into the future, when you crossed the choppy grey waters of the Channel?

Did you imagine your country, or the world, as it would someday be, as your landing craft crashed and scraped ashore at Omaha Beach?

Would it have crossed your mind, to think about 2024 Americans, as you crept through the hedgerows of western France?

You, who the the enemy derided as “clerks and secretaries”, were, in fact, clerks and secretaries, farmers and factory workers, teachers and truck drivers. Many of you had never been out of your state, much less out of the country, yet now, here you were.

And we are free because of it.

We are free because of how you fought. In spite of leaders who failed you at times, as our leaders fail us today. Just a few years earlier, your country had scandalously few planes and tanks, and an army smaller than Italy’s. The long-simmering battle plans for the invasion of Europe, meticulous though they were, were mostly unknown to you.

Your portion sort of disintegrated on contact with French soil. Mishaps, misdirection, poor equipment, wrong gear—but the clerks and secretaries were themselves the secret weapon.

Historian Stephen Ambrose called you “citizen soldiers”. It was not a putdown.

He meant that you came from a free, and free-wheeling, people. All your lives you had tinkered with motors and machines, making up games as children. Yours was a free and open society, a society of daydreamers as well as doers.  Your freedom saved the day for freedom itself.

So, you innovated your way, inch by inch.

Just like Americans always do.

You were the most American of Americans, and you wrote the most American of stories. Yes, you were alongside Canadians and Brits, Aussies, French, South Africans and more. Brave, good, men all.

Still, the very scope of D-Day had you written all over it. When French farmers raised their shades and looked out at an ocean “paved with ships…like you could walk across them” and saw “skies dark with aircraft”, they were seeing the might and productivity of the United States.

Your country is still an awesome producer of people, goods and dreams. But lacking in some things, too.

Confidence. Leadership. Audacity.

Pray for us, watch over us, be patient with us, as we seek to heal this country and find our way again.

Now, a few of you, still brimming with life, gather in France today for this sacred anniversary.

Many more lie in places like Colleville-sur-Mer, St. Mihiel and Brittany.

Your buddies. Our fathers, brothers and sons. Forever young.

Lives not interrupted, but consecrated.

People wonder if we will always remember you, when the last of you is gone.

I say yes.

Young people, born long after your exploits, will still seek out your stories.

They will read history, yes, but they will also recognize little pieces of themselves in you. Your story is too good to miss.

You were us. You are us.

The best of us.

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