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Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)
These anniversaries, especially the five-year anniversaries, of D-Day always remind me of why the National D-Day Memorial is vital. Folks often talk about how nice it is for the D-Day veterans to be able to see it, but its mission — remember, it’s a memorial — is to make sure we remember all those guys who never lived to see it.
It’s important to remember that, for more than 4,000 young men, June 6, 1944, was their last day on earth. Go up to the D-Day Memorial and look at those bronze plaques lining the wall that forms a broad semicircle behind the big plaza where all the D-Day anniversary ceremonies are held. Those plaques bear the names of every one of those men. It gives a good visual example of the magnitude of the sacrifice.
Walk up to one of those plaques, close enough to read the names and look at one of them. Do you enjoy freedom of speech and freedom of religion? That man paid for your freedom with his blood. Three generations of Americans, as well as West Europeans, had a future because that man gave up his future.
Many of those who survived that day didn’t have long to live. Thousands took their last earthly steps somewhere in the Norman hedgerow country prior to the break out at St. Lô at the end of July. The Normandy American Cemetery at Colleville-Sur-Mer, overlooking Omaha Beach, contains more than 9,000 graves, all of them the final resting place for the bodies of young men killed fighting for freedom in Normandy. There are other cemeteries in Normandy where the bodies of British and Canadian soldiers, killed in the fighting, were buried. Furthermore, the graves in the American Cemetery don’t account for all the Americans who were killed. The bodies of some Americans, like Taylor Fellers and Frank Draper, were later brought back to their hometowns for reburial. The bodies of other Americans, like Raymond Hoback, were never found. None of these men ever lived to see the ultimate victory they helped secure, let alone the National D-Day Memorial.
The National D-Day Memorial’s mission is to preserve the memory of these men. Its job is to make sure what they did is never forgotten. That’s why it’s imperative that the National D-Memorial survives; that it continues to survive, and thrive after the last D-Day veteran goes the way of all flesh.
It’s important to keep in mind that the National D-Day Memorial is more than beautifully landscaped grounds, bronze sculptures, concrete, granite and anorthositic gabbro (that’s what the Army-green stone on the arch is). These dramatize the history, but the Memorial’s educational programs are its most important feature.
A number of factors, including a crummy economy, reduced the National D-Day Memorial Foundation’s income and resulted in the Foundation taking drastic cost saving measures, including laying off much of its staff a few years ago. What’s left of the staff, assisted by volunteers, has done a heroic job, but this situation has got to change. Somehow, the money needs to start coming in to turn that situation around so that the Foundation can return to its pre-2009 staff levels and education programs can be expanded. The National D-Day Education Center must also be built, which means the money to build it and staff it must come in.
I’m not sure how that will happen, but I hope everybody who has ever visited the Memorial will consider what they can do to help whether they make donations, or promote the Memorial to friends. And, maybe, there’s a deep-pocketed philanthropist out there who can endow a fund to provide sustained operational funds for the Memorial.
Hopefully the National D-Day Memorial will still be there telling these men’s stories, and why what they did is important, when the centennial of D-Day rolls around in 2044.