Friday, June 6, 2014

D-Day ... Then and Now ... The Heroes Remember .... American Exceptionalism in Action

D-Day is today. Some veterans still are alive and able to share with us their experiences of that world changing day.

We should be both proud and grateful for what they did, and we should be aware and alarmed at what we're in danger of doing to their legacy.

Because in the end, D-Day history will either be a great teacher or we will be doomed to repeat it. Let's learn our lessons well.

So let's hear what the veterans of D-Day have to teach us as they recall their actions in Last of Surviving D-Day Veterans Battle Time to Bear Witness. It's subtitled 'For Many Who Have Provided Living Testimony to Invasion's Legacy, Friday's D-Day Milestone Is Likely to Be Last:'

"When John C. Raaen Jr. stormed Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, he was a 22-year-old captain leading his fellow U.S. Army Rangers into a hail of Nazi gunfire.
Today, he is a 92-year-old retired general who faces a different challenge: The generation of veterans who turned the tide of World War II with the D-Day landing and survived to tell their story is literally dying off.                    

"I haven't seen a single soul that I know here that had anything to do with the Rangers," Gen. Raaen said after walking the windswept shores of Normandy a day before the 70th anniversary of history's biggest amphibious offensive. . . . For decades, D-Day commemorations have served as a potent reminder of the shared sacrifice of American, Canadian, British and other Western forces to free Europe from the clutches of totalitarianism. Not only was the battle pivotal in defeating Adolf Hitler, it turned the page on centuries of European bloodshed, leading the way to a new order. . . .

Veterans such as Gen. Raaen play a crucial role in the commemorations, providing the living testimony that underpins the battle's historical legacy. For many veterans, however, Friday's D-Day milestone is likely to be their last.

With every year that passes, fewer and fewer veterans can muster strength to report to the commemorations. When Gen. Raaen traveled to Normandy a decade ago, he was accompanied by about 25 veterans and four historians. On his current visit, he says, it is the other way around: only a few veterans were able to come, along with a couple dozen historians.
U.S. veteran Thomas Blakey, 93, who served as a paratrooper on D-Day, returned to Normandy for the 70th anniversary.

"The passing of veterans means that the event enters the realm of history, and is no longer in the realm of the personal experience," said Rob Citino, a historian at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pa.

Today the trans-Atlantic relationship that D-Day forged is under strain. The fallout from National Security Agency spying on European allies continues, while the crisis in Ukraine has rekindled decades-old tensions with Russia, raising widespread concerns over whether Europe has grown complacent in ensuring its own security. . . .

At the age of 92, D-Day veteran Gen. John C. Raaen Jr. returns to Normandy for the 70th anniversary.

"What have we done with this treasure that our fathers and grandfathers built for us?" said Clara Gaymard, head of French operations for General Electric Co., whose $17 billion bid for most of France's Alstom SA has unleashed a strong political backlash in Paris. "We are the generation that has taken for granted that they fought on the beaches."

Thomas Enders, chief executive of Airbus Group NV, said military spending by the European Union's biggest economy, Germany, was "not in the best shape, to put it lightly." Berlin spent 1.3% of economic output on defense in 2012, compared with 2.3% in France and 4.2% in the U.S.

The sense of paralysis looming over Normandy this week is a far cry from the epic mobilization of military machinery and manpower that culminated in D-Day. Tens of thousands of men piled into thousands of ships and planes to cross the English Channel.

Thomas Blakey, a then-23-year-old from Houston, parachuted behind enemy lines, landing in the early-morning dark on a mission to capture and hold La Fière Bridge.

"I was expecting to be up to my elbows and armpits in Germans trying to kill me," recalled Mr. Blakey, who is now 93 and walks with the help of a cane.

Then-Capt. Raaen's battalion was charged with taking Omaha Beach, where American troops suffered around 2,000 casualties.

As his landing craft approached the beachhead, a group of boats just ahead of him ran into heavy German gunfire and artillery. "We could tell they were being cut to shreds," he said.

The former captain couldn't see where the gunfire was coming from as he hit the beach with a 50-yard jog ahead of him. Instead, Gen. Raaen recalled 70 years later, the sound of bullets that whizzed by his head "like you had kicked a beehive."

The soldier survived the onslaught, and the Allies conquered the coastline. Today, Gen. Raaen is battling time itself. To make it to the 75th anniversary, he quips, a wheelchair might be in order.

Mr. Blakey, tired after a day trip to the American veterans' cemetery, pledged to return in years to come "if I live long enough.""

Summing Up

They did their jobs --- the really tough ones.

Now let's do ours --- the relatively easy ones.

Let's always remember and never forget what the Greatest Generation did to make the world a better and safer place.

Let's resolve to always keep America the Home of the Free and the Brave, and to always be the unequaled Land of Opportunity.

American Exceptionalism is real. D-Day proved that.

That's my take.

Thanks. Bob.

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