June 6 marked the 76th Anniversary of D-Day, which is the name given to the World War II battle involving over 156,000 American, British and Canadian forces landing on five beaches along a 50-mile stretch of the heavily fortified coast of France’s Normandy region in one of the largest amphibious military assaults in history.
With all that is going on in the world today, it can be easy to forget about things that happened so long ago. However, it is during times like these that the need to remember, and learn from history, is even more important. History does not happen in a vacuum, and failing to learn from it can lead to serious consequences.
Led by Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower, D-Day consisted of the Allied forces storming beaches at Normandy code named Sword, Juno, Gold, Utah and Omaha.
The storming of the beaches was met by German machine gunners and artillery who tried to hold back the invasion force. The German forces almost succeeded at Omaha, costing the Allies more than two thousand casualties in the opening hours of the battle.
For an idea of just how gruesome this type of frontal beach assault is, one need only watch the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan. It is easy to forget in this era of drone attacks and smart bombs, that war was once much more hand to hand, leading to much higher casualty rates among its participants.
In total, the Battle of Normandy lasted from June 1944 to August 1944 resulting in the Allied liberation of Western Europe from Nazi Germany’s control. The battle has been called the beginning of the end of war in Europe.
During the D-Day invasion, all scheduled Major League Baseball games were canceled marking only the second time in MLB history that games were cancelled league wide.
The first cancellation of MLB games happened on the day U.S. president Warren Harding died in 1923.
The third time was when Commissioner Bud Selig stopped play for six days from Sept. 11-16, 2001, following the terrorist attacks of September 11th. Although the start of the 2020 MLB season has been delayed by two months and counting, technically the games have not been cancelled, and are merely postponed.
Two future MLB Hall of Famers, Yogi Berra and Leon Day, participated in D-Day. According to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, 35 Hall of Fame members, including Ted Williams, and more than 500 MLB players served in World War II.
Unfortunately, the time to thank a World War II veteran in person for the sacrifices they made on those beaches over 70 years ago is vanishing rapidly.
According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, 389,292 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II were alive in 2019. The United States Veteran’s Administration estimates that a World War II veteran dies around every two minutes. With each death of a WWII vet a piece of history is lost.
The COVID-19 virus effects the elderly at a disproportionate rate, meaning that the loss of WWII veterans could be sped up. Thankfully, there are stories of WWII vets who have made full recoveries from COVID-19 proving that they really are members of the “Greatest Generation.”
Unfortunately, even the greatest generation cannot win the battle against time over the long run. By the year 2036, the VA estimates, there will no longer be any living World War II veterans. For comparison purposes, the last World War I veteran, Frank Buckles, died in February 2011.
Thanks to the efforts of organizations like the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, the stories of the veterans of WWII have been captured to ensure that they can be told long after the men and women who fought to free the world from tyranny are no longer with us.
It is likely, and hopeful, that the world will not see another war of the scale of World War II. While there will always be a need for a certain number of boots on the ground, advancements in technology have greatly reduced the number of boots required to conduct modern warfare.
But while the number of soldiers needed to protect freedom will continue to decline in the coming years, that does not minimize the level of sacrifice made by each of the soldiers who wear the uniform.
The example of D-Day shows us what happens when men and women from all walks of life unite against a common foe in order to seek an outcome that improves life for everyone. Every inch of sand that was captured on the beaches of Normandy involved a sacrifice the likes of which the world will hopefully never see again.
But, when they were asked to make that sacrifice, the soldiers on the front lines charged ahead for the greater good. That united we stand, and divided we fall outlook on life can be hard to see at times, but it is in the DNA of each and every one of us.
Sadly, many images on the news the last few weeks have shown both unity for a cause, as well as armed resistance against the cause.
Television screens have been full of images of protests for social justice, and law enforcement entities clashing in cities across America. Now more than ever it is important to cling to the ideals of finding common ground and working together versus battling against each other.
So, take some time before the start of the hustle and bustle of the weekend to remember the sacrifice made on D-Day that helped maintain freedom, and reflect on the high cost of freedom paid by each generation that has gone before.
And by all means if you happen to see a World War II veteran, or any other veteran for that matter, be sure to thank them for their service and their sacrifice.
And, wear a mask when you see them as a show of respect for that sacrifice when you are out and about. The veterans of World War II are already dying at a rapid rate, the last thing any of us should want to do is hasten their demise by infecting them with COVID-19. Storming a beach when people are shooting at you is difficult. Wearing a mask to honor the people who charged when the bullets were flying is a very simple thing to do.
Honor their sacrifice by honoring them and protecting them. They showed they would do the same for each of us when they secured our freedom one inch of sand at a time.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a museum visit to plan.
Copyright 2020 R. Anderson