Guest editorial: Of all its battles, America enshrines one

From the Lewiston Tribune

Perhaps unique to all nations, America does not commemorate its battles.

We honor our veterans, living and dead. But there is no special day to mark the victory at Yorktown.

“The Battle of New Orleans” is a Johnny Horton song.

Mention Gettysburg, and you think of Abraham Lincoln’s eloquence.

Ask an American schoolchild to cite VE or VJ day, and he’ll have to Google it.

But come Friday, there will be no such oversights.

For the 70th consecutive year, a nation will pause to remember the invasion of Normandy.

Alone among all its battles, America has imprinted the date on its collective memory.

June 6, 1944.

D-Day.

Why?

Credit presidents and poets alike.

Start with Franklin Roosevelt’s fervent prayer: “Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our republic, our religion and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.”

Continue with author Cornelius Ryan’s “The Longest Day,” and producer Darryl F. Zanuck’s subsequent film account.

Look back 30 years when President Ronald Reagan came to Normandy and paid tribute to the “boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.”

Watch the unremitting hellish Omaha Beach landing Steven Spielberg depicted in “Saving Private Ryan.”

What could inspire such reverence?

Sheer American audacity.

All that the country was and hoped to be was put into the pot.

Industrial might.

Ingenuity.

Military agility.

And faith that it could hurl these resources across the English Channel in an operation of unprecedented scope.

The cause was noble.

There was clarity of purpose.

There was no ambiguity. Losing this war meant annihilation.

It came down to 160,000 men who bailed out of airplanes behind enemy lines, who climbed the cliffs, who waded ashore, confronted machine guns and pillboxes and faced a battle-hardened enemy who was waiting for them.

We remember them because, as FDR said, “They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and good will among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.”

We remember them because, as historian Stephen Ambrose recounted, Adolf Hitler was so certain his German soldiers “raised up in the Hitler Youth, would always outfight American soldiers, brought up in the Boy Scouts. He lost that bet. The Boy Scouts had been taught how to figure their way out of their own problems.”

We remember them - in Reagan’s words - as men who 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 the next.”

We remember them as men who won that battle and the war. They delivered a world far from perfect but one in which nightmares of their own time were to be exorcised from the lives of their children and their children’s children.

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