Time running out to say thanks
If you aren’t old enough to remember World War II, the intensive coverage of the 70th anniversary of D-Day being provided by national media outlets should be a priority.
That historic invasion of Normandy, the massive military operation by the U.S.-led Allies on June 6, 1944, turned the fortunes of the war in Europe in favor of the good guys.
This week’s coverage is significant for reasons beyond the fact that it reminds us of the brave actions of some 200,000 military servicemen who participated in the Normandy Invasion in some way.
That point is very important, of course, because the majority of these warriors have been reluctant to share their experiences. Those memories will be with them as long as they live, and it has only been in recent years that some of the unsung heroes have decided it was time for their stories to be shared.
The passage of years and the advanced ages of those men are likely factors in their willingness to reflect on the sights and sounds they’ve kept hidden inside for decades. Every June, it seems someone whose service on D-Day was all but forgotten is identified, and offers to share his story. Then, we realize how reluctant those veterans are to accept the recognition they are rightfully due.
World War II, the global battle that consumed so much energy and claimed so many lives, is quickly fading into history books. Meanwhile, veterans of those battles — along with the millions more who supported the war effort in a variety of roles — are dwindling.
According to the U.S. Veterans Administration, more than 550 World War II veterans die every day. And with each death, a piece of history is lost forever.
According to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, approximately 16 million Americans served during World War II. Today, just over one million remain. You can do the math and understand that time is catching up with them.
Among members of younger generations, the victory won by Allied soldiers during World War II — a group that includes most of their great-grandfathers, grandfathers and even some of their fathers — cannot be fully appreciated without careful study.
The concept of a nation at war is much different these days. War is no longer an all-consuming national commitment, but it was in the 1940s. Then, every man, woman and child did something to further the effort. If you didn’t enlist in the armed forces, you worked in a factory to supply materials for those who had. And for everyone left back at home, your daily life was drastically changed as common products we all take for granted — meats, gasoline, shoes, fencing and much more — were rationed so the troops would have what they needed.
Since the beginning of this century, Americans have been fighting two wars overseas, and the only ones of us who have been inconvenienced are the brave soldiers and sailors who volunteered for service, and their families.
But those discrepancies are a debate for another day, not for this milestone anniversary of D-Day. Rather, this is a moment to remember what happened on June 6, 1944, and the days that followed as our troops marched inland.
Answering a series of “what if” questions will produce some sobering conclusions. What if D-Day had been a failed maneuver? What if Hitler had prevailed in his quest for world domination? What if brutally racist governmental policies had become acceptable throughout much of the world? What if people who were by nature peace-loving — but who cherished freedom even more — had not answered the call?
The lives of millions throughout the world have been enriched — and no doubt preserved — thanks to the veterans of World War II. The prosperous society inherited by those of us who came after them was made possible by their sacrifice and devotion to duty. They handed each of us a great treasure.
But the time we have available to say “thank you” is dwindling. It can’t be said often enough, whether it comes on D-Day, Veterans Day, or any other day of the year.
Gene Deason is a former editor of the Brownwood Bulletin. He started writing his “tgif” column on Fridays in 1977. Contact him by email at email@example.com.