79 years ago today, my grandfather jumped out of a plane. He was 17 years old when he joined the 101st Airborne Division, and at the ripe age of 18, he boarded a C-47 aircraft with the rest of his company destined for Normandy. On June 6, 1944, he jumped out of that plane onto Utah Beach, becoming a part of what would become the largest amphibious invasion in military history, Operation Overlord, or, as it's more commonly known, D-Day.
Though only 18, my grandfather was one of the oldest soldiers in his company. He recounted how many, like himself, lied about their age in order to have their shot at fighting for their country. As Omaha Beach veteran Frank Devita recounted:
We were all kids. We were too young to drink. We were too young to vote. And we were too young to die.
And many of them did.
On June 6, 1944, almost 160,000 troops from the United States, the British Commonwealth, and their allies began what would become the ultimate demise of the Third Reich, concluding one of the darkest chapters in human history. 2,500 of these soldiers were American boys who gave the ultimate sacrifice in Normandy, where most of them remain, their bodies never making it back home to the country for which they paid the ultimate price.
2,500 of these soldiers were American boys who gave the ultimate sacrifice in Normandy.
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In an age seemingly devoid of courage and virtue, it is natural to picture these soldiers as the greatest of men. And they were. However, we must remember these exemplars of manhood were boys, young boys, who exhibited the courage and virtue that we so seldom see in those twice their age today.
We must remember these exemplars of manhood were boys.
Remembering D-Day is not only sobering regarding the loss of life and innocence; it's sobering to consider how far our country has strayed from the ideals exemplified by the "greatest generation."
79 years ago, Americans knew what they were fighting for. As a Jewish man born in Berlin, witnessing the rise of fascism and socialism at the expense of individual liberty and the sanctity of life, my grandfather was eager to go back to his birthplace as an American soldier to fight for the fundamental principles of life and liberty that he and his family had been denied in Nazi Germany.
They were some of the lucky individuals who were able to escape—and there's a reason why he and his family chose America as their new homeland. The life and liberty they had been denied in Germany were regarded as sacred in the United States.
Yet, do we still regard these things as sacred?
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Most of the United States still hold that the sanctity of life is contingent upon convenience and circumstance. Economic policies continue to morph closer to the socialism adopted by the rest of the world in the 20th century, penalizing the success and merit that was once tantalizing to immigrants like my grandfather. Moreover, 2020 extinguished any doubt that the freedoms we hold dear are expendable at the whims of our ruling class.
This isn't the same America that provided refuge to my grandfather's family nor is it the same country that he and his brothers-in-arms fought for.
On this anniversary of D-Day, it is important that we remember the sacrifice given by the young American boys, who became the greatest of men, on the beaches of Normandy. However, perhaps it is just as important to remember that we are called to the very same standard as they so powerfully exemplified: to love our country and the principles of life and freedom that stand in stark contrast to much of the onlooking world and to have the courage to defend it, even if it requires the level courage that these young men were called to.