There are few moments in history that truly shine over the ages.
There are great movements and actions — the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, women’s suffrage, the Civil Rights movement, the Great Depression, the Cold War, just to name a few — which affect much of the world and shape the future.
But few truly singular events that stand above the rest.
Among those might be the landing of the colonist at Jamestown, Cornwallis’ surrender, Lee’s surrender to Grant, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the D-Day invasion of Normandy.
That latter event took place 70 years ago today.
Perhaps the largest single military operation in human history, the invasion was a critical operation in both bringing down the Nazis regime which had terrorized Europe for years, and in liberating at least western Europe before the Russian troops marching from the east could advance over those portions of Europe.
The invasion would come at a terrible cost. Today, historians believe the leaders of that assault feared some units in the invasion could see casualty rates as high as 80 to 90 percent.
Thankfully, losses were not as numerous as anticipated. Still, they were heavy. The first wave of units are said to have experienced a 50-percent casualty rate. Some individual units did see excessively high losses, in line with the worst fears.
But the men landing on that beach, under heavy and constant fire from German forces, did their duty. Many lost lives, others experienced serious injury. All were forever changed after what they went through that day and in the weeks afterward.
Former NBC anchorman and author Tom Brokaw famously called those who fought and won World War II the greatest generation. While that designation could be up for debate, there is no argument about one thing: The Americans who lived through that time, who sacrificed and served, who fought and who went ashore on D-Day had one common characteristic — service.
Many of the men fighting in the war did so for various reason. Some out of hatred for the Nazis regime, others out of fear that America and American interest were in danger. Some of them did so undoubtedly out of a subtle form of peer pressure — everyone else was doing it, I must do it too — and many took on the mantle of military engagement to help free those in Europe who were under Nazi oppression and rule.
All, though, had a theme of service in their work. Whether they felt they were serving America, serving humanity as a whole, or simply finding a temporary niche in life in which they could make a difference, most understand they were serving others, serving something bigger than themselves.
In terms of service, of willing to give to others until there was nothing else to give, perhaps Brokaw is right in calling this the greatest generation. We would be hard-pressed to find a time in history when so many people gave so much for a common goal.
There are few veterans of the D-Day operation left today, given the decades which have passed. Today we honor and remember D-Day. On page 1 reporter Tom Joyce profiles local veteran William “Bud” Liebenow who shares his memories of that day and his wartime service.
Elsewhere on this editorial page is a guest column supplied by local businessman Tom Webb, whose father, Norman Webb, was there for the D-Day invasion. Tom Webb details a trip he and his son, Ben Webb, took to visit Utah Beach and Omaha Beach — a trip that brought alive some of the stories Tom heard about his father’s service.
We wish we could tell many more stories about these men and their lives, but time and space prevent that. We hope those in our community never forget the service these men, and women, gave during their lives.