Op-ed: D-Day, a legacy and a future

Wednesday, June 12, 2019 - 6:21pm

It is not often I wrap myself in the flag or get misty-eyed with patriotic sentiment. Perhaps this is because, as a history major, it is easy to get lost in the doom and gloom of most U.S. history classes. Or perhaps I am simply cynical by nature; I hope this is not the case — but maybe. In full awareness of this country’s missteps over the last two centuries — some of them egregious — I believe there are some moments when we can hold our heads high and proudly call ourselves Americans.

Now, as a member of The Daily, I also have great pride in this newspaper and the people with whom I work. Unfortunately, there was a grave oversight in last week’s edition: Not one word was written in the memory of the finest men who ever called themselves Americans — on the 75th anniversary of their sacrifice, no less. I was disappointed to learn the stories that were published instead concerned only the political sticking points of 2019 — the issues which, by their nature, divide us. And so, knowing full well from the start that my efforts will be insufficient, I commit my humble talents to correct this mistake and honor both the sacrifices and triumphs of the men who fought and fell three-quarters of a century ago.

On June 6, 1944, Allied forces, composed largely of American, British and Canadian troops, landed on the beaches of Normandy in northern France. Men plunged themselves into the raging, cold seas of the English Channel and marched headlong into a hailstorm of bullets. This was D-Day, the beginning of the end of World War II. It was because of this first assault that Allied forces were able to gain a foothold in continental Europe, liberate France, push into Germany and finally defeat Adolf Hitler.

I give this brief account of the Second World War because that war’s significance cannot be overstated. It was this war that brought down Hitler’s Germany and allowed a new age of freedom to take root, not just in Europe, but around the world. When the dust settled, Nazi death camps were destroyed, fascism had fallen and the swastika lay atop a pile of rubble once meant to be the foundation of a 1,000-year reign.

I am not saying today’s politics are unimportant and should not be discussed. They should be. What I am saying is this: The memory of the men who brought down the Third Reich deserves our fullest devotion to preserving and improving the nation they died for. However, we cannot do this if we lose sight of our history and emphasize only the things which separate us. We are the heirs of a great inheritance, and we should endeavor to deserve that inheritance by building on the foundation our forefathers lay — a foundation of liberty, equality and unity. In spite of our differences, we share this history and we share a future.

If nothing else, remember this: The freedoms we do not yet possess pale in comparison to the freedoms we currently enjoy. While we cry for that more perfect union, we must remember it will never be perfect, but it is good. It was good when it was conceived. It was good when our soldiers fought their way across the beaches. It is good now. But we can make it better. The torch has been passed to us, and we cannot allow this American experiment to fail after so much has been dedicated to its success. As we press on into the future, we must carry our history forward with us. If we do not, we will have failed before we have even begun.

And so, I leave you with the same commission that was given at another field where Americans fought and died for what they believed this country was and for what it could be:

“It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. … That we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Silas Lee can be reached at silascl@umich.edu.