With the abundance of narrow bickering characteristic of our society these days, it’s easy to lose perspective. But if we want to regain it, history is always there to be help us out.
72 years ago tonight, hundreds of thousands of young Americans were preparing for the Normandy Invasion. They knew many of them wouldn’t survive first contact with the enemy. They knew even those who did stood a good chance of being killed or maimed in the fighting that would follow. They knew they faced a formidable foe who had burrowed into the European mainland and would not give an inch without a ferocious fight. They knew this enemy was heavily armed, proficient, and not to be underestimated.
Basically, they had to confront the idea that they had perhaps seen home and family for the last time. And they could comfort themselves only with the reality that they were doing something that had to be done, that someone had to do it, and that they were chosen to play that role.
Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s famous letter to the troops is a remarkable window into this weighty historical moment. He doesn’t mince words or dissemble into hollow cheerleading. He places a massive burden of duty upon the shoulders of his men, signaling both obligation and confidence. He inspires by through expectation, and reminds everyone of the stakes involved … which allows them go forward knowing that come what may, they are participating in the writing of history.
Thank goodness they were willing to do their duty on that “Day of Days.” We owe them a hell of a debt.
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