Seventy years ago today, heroic American and Allied troops stormed five beaches in northern France in an audacious attempt to recapture the European continent from the Nazis.
In the darkness of early morning, some 5,000 ships carrying more than 150,000 Allied soldiers departed southern England while planes dropped more than 13,000 paratroopers behind enemy lines, all as part of the largest invasion force in history.
Because of the sacrifices made that morning, in the days and months that preceded D-Day and in those that would follow, the children and grandchildren of these dutiful Americans have since inherited the country their parents and grandparents so fiercely fought to preserve.
Indeed, in the seven decades that have elapsed, our nation has not merely been preserved, it has thrived.
At no time since the fall of Nazi Germany has any succeeding generation been forced to make the kind of sacrifices that the men and women who fought in World War II so readily made.
That is perhaps why, even so many decades afterward, the events of D-Day continue to occupy a powerful and profound place in the American consciousness.
What occurred on those beaches in Normandy has come to embody the ethos of the last generation to mobilize an entire nation for the singular cause of defending liberty.
Yet, as we mark D-Day’s 70th anniversary, there is a palpable sense that the lived experiences of the Greatest Generation are rapidly fading.
Fewer than 1.7 million of the 16.1 million men and women who served in World War II are still alive — fewer than 77,000 in Texas, a state with one of the largest veteran populations. And with more than 600 WWII vets dying every day, today’s commemoration will be perhaps the last major opportunity for many of the remaining survivors to gather, honor the fallen and, most importantly, tell their stories.
As anniversaries often do, the hundreds of ceremonies and gatherings planned will revive memories for the aging generation.
But they should also lead to meaningful reflection for those of us who benefit from their legacy, who will not have to fight wars because they did, and who must always remember the high price they paid for our freedom.