We have spoken to many people this week who have reached out ahead of today’s remembrance of D-Day.
They tell us of parents, grandparents; they tell us of those they care for in nursing homes, and assisted living.
“They were there,” they say with reverence.
There is no need to explain the significance of this day to our callers. They already know that 75 years ago today — June 6, 1944 — that Allied Forces, made up of U.S., British and Canadian troops, mounted an air- and seaborne assault on Hitler’s army in Normandy, France.
Or that this movement of 160,000 people along 50 miles of coastline was extraordinary — in its size, in its impact on the outcome of the war, in its loss of life. They know the beachhead names — Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. They may even know that the “D” in D-Day is military countdown device that was used in all invasions to denote the attack, and that there were d-days throughout this war and others.
But most importantly, they know why this D-Day stands alone in history, as the waves of men hurtling themselves on beaches against immense enemy fire turned the tide of the war and made Allied victory possible.
They know because so many people remember this war — whether they were on the beach that day, or working here in a factory, rationing groceries, or just going about their lives in London, Tokyo, Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Berlin, Auschwitz and in countless villages and towns around the world.
Those who saw everything firsthand were among us, and they told us their stories. We were able to see the scars for ourselves, and recognize the sacrifice that hundreds of thousands of people made for the freedoms we enjoy today.
But today is even more bittersweet because we are in the process of losing this tie, as mortality steals our collective memories. Large D-Day celebrations happen every five years, and this anniversary today is thought to be one of the last where we’ll have World War II veterans in attendance.
Thankfully, they, and the other witnesses to this war, have left us their memories in their stories, in how the war changed them, in how that change shaped the generations that came after.
But this connection, too, will gradually fade, and it’s incumbent upon us to continue to tell the stories when it does.
Technology and media have allowed us to collect, publish and broadcast a tome of World War II history, but part of the particular lesson of this war was how information can be widely manipulated and disseminated through propaganda, distilling the many and cascading layers of war’s impact into drips of nationalism to achieve a certain end. It’s easy to dismiss the Holocaust deniers today as ridiculous against the weight of witness and objectivity.
But that they exist reaffirms our deep responsibility to collect, and retell witness accounts in the short days that we still have them.
The legacy of D-Day leaves us grateful for the reverence of our callers, and those who have shared their stories with us in recent days. We are proud to be a newspaper of historical record. We also charge the families and caretakers of The Greatest Generation to sit for a spell, hold a hand that feels like soft paper, listen and use our voluminous technology to preserve the stories and the voice that tells them.
We love Margaret Edgington’s story about getting her dad’s D-Day story down on paper; she, one of eight kids, ended up with the task after her sister’s flair for drama disqualified her.
“She said ‘they were keeping one eye open in the foxhole’ and my dad said, ‘that’s enough.’”
Capturing the voices of those who were there do double-duty in preserving both an individual truth, and the person who tells it.
Getting the voice right brings that person, that day, right back before us. It’s OK if we cry. We should, for so many reasons.
Thank you to the D-Day veterans, the members of The Greatest Generation and the ones who appreciate their stories for the treasures they are. We will no doubt wipe many tears away today for what we lost, and won, on this day, 75 years ago.
- Today marks 75 years since the D-Day invasion that turned the tide of World War II.
- Keeping the truest form of memory alive is incumbent on us.