This past week, we commemorated the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Normandy, otherwise known as D-Day. Many of us know D-Day as an event that eventually resulted in victory for the Allied forces in World War II. Thousands of brave American soldiers sacrificed their lives for the greater good and helped to secure the freedom we enjoy today.
While it can be easy to think of the battle in terms of numbers – the date (June 6, 1944), the length of the shoreline (50 miles), the number of casualties (more than 10,000) – it is important to remember that the soldiers who fought in World War II represent the best of our American values.
Martha Gellhorn, a war reporter, was the only woman to land at Normandy on D-Day. At the time, women with press credentials were not approved to travel into war zones, so she snuck on to a hospital ship and posed as a stretcher bearer in order to tell her stories. On the ship, she wrote about the men, many of them merely young boys, who stormed the shores of Normandy, unsure of their fate. In an August 1944 article, she wrote:
“It will be hard to tell you of the wounded, there were so many of them…But the wounded talked among themselves, and as time went on you got to know them, by their faces and their wounds, not by their names. They were a magnificent, enduring bunch of men. Men smiled who were in such pain that all they really can have wanted to do was turn their heads away and cry, and men made jokes when they needed their strength just to survive… All through the ship, men were asking after other men by name, anxiously, wondering if they were on board and how they were doing.”
Even through the terrors of war, Martha’s accounts of D-Day and the following events display a sense of courage and strength that not everyone is capable of. These men were fighting for their lives, but they understood their sacrifice and, even though some were on the brink of death, cared more about their neighbors. Instead of writing about them as casualties, she reminded the American people of their humanity. She reminded us that they were sons, brothers, and fathers. They were farmers, mechanics, and butchers. They cared deeply about their families and about one another, and they gave up their lives to protect our country.
The soldiers who survived the shores of Normandy are not young men anymore. Many of them have lived fulfilling lives, and many of them have passed on. When we commemorate the anniversary of D-Day, we honor their bravery, their strength, and the kindness they showed to their brothers-in-arms. It is the sense of their humanity that we stand to lose when they are all gone. It is thanks to people like Martha Gellhorn who help their legacies continue – 75 years and counting.
Congressman Dan Newhouse of Sunnyside serves the 4th Congressional District in Washington, D.C.