Much like the millions of mighty buffalo’s that once roamed the Great Plains of America in vast herds, the “Greatest Generation” are now few in number. However watching those frail old men humbly standing behind our Commander and Chief, in a place called Normandy, one couldn’t help but wonder if it were not for their selfless acts of unimaginable bravery 75-years ago, what would Europe, indeed America look like today?
Those frail bodies now leaning on canes and in wheelchairs were once young boys barely out of high school, when a threatened world called to them to defend civilization, from an incomprehensible evil dubbed Nazism, a half a world away.
What awaited them was the unparalleled horror of death and destruction, between good and evil, which would forever change the course of history, because of those frail old men (now few in number), leaning on canes and in wheelchairs who vanquished evil on that day, to save humankind for generations to come.
And it was within that historical backdrop that both French President Emmanuel Macron and President Donald Trump on Thursday came together at “The Normandy American Cemetery” where 9,380 American warrior’s lie in eternal sleep.
Both Presidents’ came to this hallowed ground to pay homage to those “boys of yesteryear,” who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Macron spoke first in French, paying a heartfelt tribute to the American and Allied soldiers who helped liberate France. He then switched to English within the final moments of his speech, gazing at the WWll veterans seated behind him; he softly said, “We know what we owe to you veterans, our freedom. On behalf of my nation, I just want to say, thank you.” And with that simple yet eloquent closing, the crowd erupted in a sustained applause.
Moments later a smiling Commander and Chief came to the podium and began; “Today we remember those who fell, and we honor all who fought right here in Normandy. They won back this ground for civilization.”
“To more than one hundred and seventy veterans of the Second World War who join us today, you are among the very greatest Americans who will ever live,” he added. “You are the pride of our nation. You are the glory of our republic. And we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”
The President continued, “In defeating that evil, they left a legacy that will last forever. To the men who sit behind me, your example will never grow old. Your legend will never die. The blood that they spilled, the tears that they shed, the lives that they gave, the sacrifice that they made, did not just win a battle, it did not just win a war… they won the survival of our civilization.”
The days leading up to the celebration were filled with countless remembrances of heroism from the epic battle, in which 4,414 Allied troops, including 2,501 Americans killed to a 23-year-old medic named Ray Lambert who would go on to win three Purple Hearts and write a book titled “Every Man a Hero.” In it Lambert recounts his experiences looking into the eyes of the dying, recalling the profound moment he realized his face would be the last thing they would see.
Perhaps the most inspiring moment came from a 99-year old D-Day veteran a day before in Britain when John Jenkins gave a moving speech at the historic D-Day commemoration ceremony in Portsmouth.
At the time Jenkins was a 24-year old platoon sergeant when he landed in Normandy on June 8th, 1944.
“I was terrified. I think everyone was, you don’t show it, but it’s there. I look back on it as a big part of my life, it changed me in a way, but I was just a small part in a very big machine. You never forget your comrades because we were all in there together.”
The veteran concluded: “It’s right that the courage and sacrifice of so many veterans is being honored 75 years on.”