June 06, 2019
"As one officer said, the only way to take a beach is to face it and keep going. It is costly... but it's the only way."
--War Correspondent Ernie Pyle, 1944
There were thousands of letters like Jack Lundberg's, scratched out hurriedly in whatever spare moments they had. "Dear Mom, Pop, and Family: Now that I am actually here, I see that the chances of my returning to all of you are quite slim... therefore I want to write this letter now while I am yet able. I want you to know how much I love you." He's sorry for adding to their grief if he dies, but insists with all of his heart, "We of the United States have something to fight for -- never more fully have I realized that. The USA is worth a sacrifice!" Including, his family would learn, his own.
Jack, like so many brave men in France, never came home. He was 25. Just another soldier doing, what one veteran says humbly, "we had to do." Today, the handful of survivors see Normandy through wrinkled eyes. Their stories are different, but the sentiment is the same: We are not heroes. The heroes, Doc Deibler insists forcefully, are all gone. "They are the ones that got killed." So, 75 years later, they came back -- more than 60 of them -- to pay their own tribute. Sitting together high above the beaches with canes and wheelchairs, they looked down on the place that bought the world its freedom.
Some Normandy veterans made the trip for the first time, emotional at the sight of a place where they'd lost so much. For others, like Tom Rice, who jumped out of a C-47 plane in the same drop zone as 1944, it was a proud moment when he stood up in his 101st Airborne cap, waving his fingers in a V. These were the men who weren't supposed to make it -- not then, and certainly not now. "When I attended the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the D-Day Landings," Queen Elizabeth told the crowd, "some thought it might be the last such event. But the wartime generation -- my generation -- is resilient."
Donald Trump, who gave a beautiful speech that even his critics are calling the greatest of his presidency, shook the hands of the survivors, telling them, "To the men that sit behind me and to the boys that rest in the field before me, your example will never grow old. You legend will never die... You are the pride of our nation. You are the glory of our republic." We know what it is we owe you, President Emmanuel Macron of France said solemnly in a brief moment of English: "Our freedom."
Across Normandy, houses and chalets -- even farms -- are flying the American flag. When he was asked, the mayor of Colleville-sur-Mer, where 9,388 of our soldiers are buried, said simply, "We are very thankful for the Americans who gave up their youth for our freedoms." They were young men, the president told the crowd, "with their entire lives before them. They were husbands who said goodbye to their young brides and took their duty as their fate. They were fathers who would never meet their infant sons and daughters because they had a job to do. And... they came, wave after wave, without question, without hesitation, and without complaint." All sustained, he acknowledged, by "praying to a righteous God."
Seventy-five years later, the tensions of the world are different. The battle for freedom isn't playing out on beaches or in French towns, but in courtrooms, government chambers, and diplomatic meetings. Jack Port, who landed on Utah beach as a 22-year-old, watches America try to navigate through these challenges and says wistfully, "...I hate leaving the world feeling this way." Like the rest of them, he probably wouldn't hesitate to put on his uniform and go right back to defending the ideals that make his nation great. In 1944, he remembers, "We didn't know what to expect and what was going to happen." They knew what we know now: America is on a "mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization." We will need "thy blessings," President Franklin Roosevelt prayed on the air and in homes across America, "for the enemy is strong."
It was a prayer so powerful, so timeless, that it rings throughout the generations. One day soon, Congress has vowed, it will make its way onto the chiseled marble of the World War II memorial. Until then, the righteousness of our cause -- of liberty -- lives on. As does our 75-year-old plea, "O Lord, give us Faith. Give us Faith in Thee; Faith in our sons; Faith in each other; Faith in our united crusade. Thy will be done."
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.