It’s tough to express feelings about D-Day as someone who was born over 40 years after June 6, 1944. Most historians refer to it as a turning point in western civilization. When I think of D-Day, I think of images. The opening scene of Saving Private Ryan. My visit to the eerily peaceful beach in spring 2010. But I also think of words – FDR’s D-Day prayer over the radio, General Eisenhower’s speech to his men, and more.
I’ve made it somewhat of a tradition here at The Wise Guise to commemorate D-Day with a reflective post. I’d urge you to read my best friend Jay Salato’s post from two years ago reflecting on the speech he had the opportunity to give at the commemorative ceremony at the U.S. Memorial Cemetery at Omaha Beach. Then, I’d urge you to re-visit my post from last year and listen to/read FDR’s prayer and Ike’s speech.
This year, I want to share two more pieces of history that I’ve recently found to continue the impossible task of commemorating the courage and sacrifice of those men who charged Normandy Beach.
First, BBC has a wonderful commemorative here. I urge you to click that link to read all the BBC radio news reports from June 6-8, 1944. Even more powerfully, BBC had Benedict Cumberbatch, Patrick Stewart, and Toby Jones record the radio reports. I urge you to listen to these to put yourself in the shoes of those living in those uncertain times.
Second, I’d urge you to read and/or listen to President Ronald Reagan’s D-Day commemorative speech given at the 40th anniversary of D-Day in 1984. Some friends recently reminded me of it and, having watched President Reagan deliver it in full for the first time, I must agree that it is not only one of his best speeches, but also likely one of the better speeches in modern American history. Reagan’s speechwriter, Peggy Noonan, reflects on the power of it here. Another friend blogged about it yesterday, discussing its potent power for our culture and time today. The Wall Street Journal even commemorated both the 10th anniversary of of Reagan’s death and the 70th anniversary of D-Day by publishing the full text of the speech yesterday.
Reagan begins the speech with a spine-tingling account of the day (“For four long years, much of Europe had been under a terrible shadow. Free nations had fallen, Jews cried out in the camps, millions cried out for liberation. Europe was enslaved, and the world prayed for its rescue. Here in Normandy the rescue began. Here the Allies stood and fought against tyranny in a giant undertaking unparalleled in human history.”). The most famous section of the speech is probably, “These are 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.”
There are segments like this one that speak directly to the foreign policy debates of our Founding and today: “We in America have learned bitter lessons from two World Wars: It is better to be here ready to protect the peace, than to take blind shelter across the sea, rushing to respond only after freedom is lost. We’ve learned that isolationism never was and never will be an acceptable response to tyrannical governments with an expansionist intent. But we try always to be prepared for peace; prepared to deter aggression; prepared to negotiate the reduction of arms; and, yes, prepared to reach out again in the spirit of reconciliation.”
But I’ll conclude my reflections with a lengthy quote from President Reagan’s speech, which I think is the most powerful. I’ll leave you with it today, as we all reflect on the 70th anniversary of that day in which so many paid the ultimate price and so many ordinary humans linked arms to do extraordinary things. May we meditate and pray on these sacrifices today. Because after that day, history would never be the same.
“Forty summers have passed since the battle that you fought here. You were young the day you took these cliffs; some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet, you risked everything here. Why? Why did you do it? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? We look at you, and somehow we know the answer. It was faith and belief; it was loyalty and love.
The men of Normandy 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 on the next. It was the deep knowledge — and pray God we have not lost it — that there is a profound, moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt.
You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One’s country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you.
The Americans who fought here that morning knew word of the invasion was spreading through the darkness back home. They fought — or felt in their hearts, though they couldn’t know in fact, that in Georgia they were filling the churches at 4 a.m., in Kansas they were kneeling on their porches and praying, and in Philadelphia they were ringing the Liberty Bell.
Something else helped the men of D-day: their rockhard belief that Providence would have a great hand in the events that would unfold here; that God was an ally in this great cause. And so, the night before the invasion, when Colonel Wolverton asked his parachute troops to kneel with him in prayer he told them: Do not bow your heads, but look up so you can see God and ask His blessing in what we’re about to do. Also that night, General Matthew Ridgway on his cot, listening in the darkness for the promise God made to Joshua: “I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.”
These are the things that impelled them; these are the things that shaped the unity of the Allies.”