As ranks of invasion vets thin, do not forget their exploit - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

As ranks of invasion vets thin, do not forget their exploit

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Posted: Thursday, June 5, 2003 9:04 pm | Updated: 1:01 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

Next year, we suppose, there will be a great to-do about the 60th anniversary of D-Day.

It probably won’t match the outpouring of memory that accompanied the 50th anniversary, when President Bill Clinton traveled to Normandy and hailed surviving D-Day veterans as men who had “saved the world.” But it will be much louder than this year’s whisper, 59th anniversaries not being known for generating much by way of hoopla.

But duty compels us to mention this 59th anniversary anyway, for of all the momentous days in that momentous 20th century, D-Day was among the foremost.

It is true that by June 6, 1944, Hitler’s grip on his stolen empire already was slipping. He had lost North Africa. He had lost Sicily and Italy. The Soviet Union’s vast army was chewing westward toward Berlin. By then, years had passed since Hitler’s last successful offensive operation.

But the nightmare of Nazism still held sway over most of Europe, and Hitler’s death factories spewed ashes day and night. Without a massive Western Front, his ultimate defeat was by no means assured.

That is what D-Day was all about. The greatest amphibious operation in history, launched against the coast of France in iffy weather and against a formidably dug-in foe, was no sure bet. History suggests that only a fortuitous set of coincidences kept the Allied armies from being hurled back into the sea that day.

Even after successfully landing, the Allies faced a long, ugly 11 months of carnage before Hitler finally took the coward’s way out, ending his own life as the ghastly month of April 1945 drew to a close.

World War II was the biggest event of all human history, and it happened within the living memories of many a graying East Valley grandpa and grandma. D-Day was its climax, if by no means its end.

Day by day, the obituary column tells us the ranks of these grandpas and grandmas are growing thinner. If next year brings major observances of the 60th anniversary of D-Day’s triumph, it will be bittersweet nonetheless — accompanied by a sad realization that by the next major anniversary, very few will be on hand who can relate what they experienced that day.

Year by year, memory’s bugles sound more faintly. But they should never fade altogether.

June 6, 1944, was indeed a day that changed the world.

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