Sixty-five years ago, 73,000 American men crossed the English Channel alongside 83,000 British and Canadian men. In a month’s time, a million men will have joined them in Normandy. Ahead of them was a fearsome German army and the brave men of the 101st and 82nd Airborne. Together, the Allies would see a long year of victory and setback; joy and heartache.
The Americans who landed at Normandy left a lot behind. They left their families, their jobs and the safety of a home insulated by two oceans. They also left behind a naive view of America as unexceptional. They, and the world, would come to see that America, with her natural resources, diverse culture and independent ideals, would be a force that would shape history. In a mere twenty-five years, another American boot would land in a far away place to plant an American flag, taking a different giant leap for mankind.
But these men who came to Normandy did not come to plant an imperial flag, to conquer or to enslave. They did not come to impose their system of government on the people of Europe. They came to save Europe from tyranny and oppression. Even before they knew about the camps, the gas chambers and the mass graves, these men knew Hitler was evil.
Appeasement only keeps the dragon well fed. These men came to slay the dragon.
These men knew, as some have already forgotten, that there is a difference between the use of force for conquest, and the use of force for liberation. It is the difference between the bully who steals lunch money and the big brother who gets it back. These young men could see what some grown men today cannot: liberation is not aggression and appeasement only keeps the dragon well fed. These men came to slay the dragon. And when it was done, the only thing they asked for, the only thing they kept, was enough land to bury their dead.
American armies had marched the globe before, but never on this scale. And unlike Cortez, they had no intention of setting fire to their ships. Their mission would be temporary, but their impact would endure for generations. From the moment the first boot pressed into the wet send of Omaha Beech, the world changed. Freedom had a new champion.