Thursday is the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the start of the invasion in which the Allies defeated Germany and ended Nazi tyranny across Europe.
While announcing the battle to the American public in a radio broadcast that day in 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously stated, “They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest.”
D-Day ceremonies at Normandy are held every five years, and this year’s ceremony may well be the last attended by any of the men who participated in the battle.
As the passage of time transforms D-Day into a legendary event in history rather than something many among us lived through, it’s important to recognize that much about this turning point in World War II is especially relevant today.
Historians and political commentators have identified valuable lessons from D-Day (Operation Overlord), the largest and most complex sea, land and air operation ever undertaken.
Especially important was the unprecedented level of cooperation between the U.S. and Great Britain and with other Allied nations on D-Day - and during the months of preparation leading up to the invasion.
Although mostly American, British and Canadian troops carried out the invasion, there also were Australian, Belgian, Czech, Dutch, French, Greek, New Zealand, Norwegian, Rhodesian and Polish naval, air or ground forces involved.
Because of his remarkable skill for fostering teamwork, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower was well suited to be supreme Allied commander over the combined Allied forces for D-Day and subsequent Allied efforts that led to victory in Europe.
Eisenhower’s ability to build and maintain an effective team, even consisting of different nations, was more important to success than his technical war-fighting skills.
President Ronald Reagan recognized the importance of the U.S. cooperating and seeking strong ties with international allies when he spoke out against isolationism at the D-Day anniversary event in 1984.
Reagan stated, “We in America have learned bitter lessons from two world wars: It is better to be here, ready to protect the peace, than to take blind shelter across the sea, rushing to respond only after freedom is lost. We’ve learned that isolationism never was and never will be an acceptable response to tyrannical governments with an expansionist intent.”
The U.S. helped found the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) based on this premise of connectedness in the aftermath of World War II.
NATO’s purpose was to secure peace in Europe, promote cooperation among its members and guard their freedom – all in the context of countering the threat posed at the time by the Soviet Union. That threat remains today.
Founded with a treaty signed in Washington in 1949 by a dozen European and North American countries, NATO committed these allies to democracy, individual liberty, the rule of law and peaceful resolution of disputes.
On June 6,1944, some 156,000 American and other Allied forces landed on five beaches along the Normandy coast of France in the largest amphibious military assaults in history. Over 4,000 Allied troops were confirmed dead and thousands were wounded or missing.
Remembering D-Day honors the sacrifices made that day in defense of the freedoms we enjoy now, and there are enduring lessons from D-Day.
Prudent diplomacy, being engaged with the world (especially our traditional allies) and a strong military to deter aggressors, informed by a solid knowledge of the past, are essential to preventing another D-Day from ever being necessary.