Saluting D-Day heroes

It is easy now for younger generations to think of D-Day as the stuff of movies, of “Saving Private Ryan” or “Band of Brothers.”

But 70 years ago today, it was no movie. It was frighteningly real, and it was a turning point in the history of the free world.

If Europe was to escape the tyranny of a madman named Hitler, who laid the blame for the world’s ills at the feet of the Jewish nation while promoting the German “master race” to be in charge of a world built of, by and for the state, sacrifice would have to be made.

By the end of the day on June 6, 1944, the ultimate sacrifice was paid by 9,000 Allied soldiers, killed or wounded on the beaches of Normandy, France. But it was their sacrifice that enabled a great army of more than 100,000 men to climb the beachfront cliffs into France and begin the long slog to defeating Hitler, the Nazis and the Axis powers.

After being pent-up in England’s staging areas for days, many aboard ships, the order to go on the morning of June 6 was given. More than 5,000 ships took their fighting human cargo to within eyesight of the German garrisons, and the carnage began. They had the support of more than 13,000 aircraft, including brave parachutists and gliders filled with troops seeking to land behind the enemy’s front lines.

It was best summed up by Allied commander and future president, Gen. Dwight David Eisenhower ,in his letter to the troops:

“Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers in arms on other fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened, he will fight savagely,” wrote Eisenhower in the first few paragraphs.

It was no movie. It was a battle fought by men who are old and losing their fellow soldiers to the ravages of time now. For the 50th anniversary of D-Day the Journal published a special commemorative edition and we learned that many of our Columbiana County men landed on the beaches of Normandy on that historic day. Back then they were teenagers and 20-somethings in their prime of life, fighting for a cause that was much bigger than themselves.

D-Day was the last time the free world was united in its cause, that there was no gray area. There was evil and good, freedom and tyranny, democracy and world domination.

We must remember that sacrifice and effort mean victory for a cause that is just, no matter how hard-won the victory must be.

D-Day is a time to recall, and rekindle, the spirit of a nation that could win no matter the odds, no matter the sacrifice.

Today we salute all of our surviving World War II veterans and are eternally grateful for their service to our country.