June 6, 1944
America's prestige in the world isn't what it was when baby boomers were growing up in the 1950s and 60s.
Today, it's tough to harness the anger when we hear our nation being trashed at the U.N. or seeing the U.S. flag dishonored by mobs in a foreign land. It's therefore gratifying to hear when foreign individuals pause to honor and respect the American soldier.
Some older villagers in France haven't forgotten the sacrifices our soldiers made in the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. Yesterday, on the anniversary of that great campaign to reclaim Europe from the Germans, villagers paused to honor Americans.
In the Normandy village of Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, a statue was unveiled honoring Maj. Dick Winters, whose leadership during the initial phases of the invasion was depicted in the television miniseries "Band of Brothers." A native of Ephrata, Pa., Winters died last year at the age of 92. A selfless soldier to the end, Winters agreed to serve as the statue's likeness only with the assurance by monument planners that it be dedicated to the memory of all junior officers who served.
In the French village of Les Ventes, the memory of Lt. Billie Harris, an American fighter pilot, is being preserved. The aviator was shot down over Nazi-occupied northern France and in his last moments managed to steer his plane clear of the town before crashing into nearby woods. Three times a year, villagers march down a road named in his honor, to place flowers at the crash site.
Harris was first buried by villagers in that wooded area where he crashed but his body was later moved to the cemetery at Normandy. His widow, Peggy Harris of Vernon, Texas, didn't learn about the crash details, and the villagers' tribute to her husband, until recently. During an emotional meeting in Les Ventes, Peggy was escorted to the woods where her husband died by 91-year-old Guy Surleau, the only living villager who witnessed the crash.
Guy told Peggy he wished he could have done more that day, to which she replied, You did."
Ronald Reagan's 1984 address at the 40th Anniversary of the D-Day Invasion at Pointe Du Hoc, Normandy, France, is recognized as one of the great speeches by an American President. To the D-Day veterans assembled on the beach that day, he said:
"Forty summers have passed since the battle that you fought here. You were young the day you took these cliffs. Some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet, you risked everything here.
"Why? Why did you do it? We look at you, and, somehow, we know the answer. It was faith and belief. It was loyalty and love. It was the deep knowledge, and pray God we have not lost it, that there is a profound moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest.
"Something else helped the men at D-Day, the rock-hard belief that providence would have a great hand in the events that would unfold here, that God was an ally in this great cause. These are the things that impelled them. These are the things that shaped the unity of the allies.
Today, as 40 years ago, our armies are here for only one purpose: to protect and defend democracy."
Reagan, the Great Communicator, spoke many famous words during his long acting and political careers but on that day 28 years ago in Normandy, the Gipper was at the top of his game.
By Jim Zbick