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U.S. CONGRESSMAN BILL JOHNSON Proudly Representing Eastern and Southeastern Ohio

Opinion Pieces

Americans in 2019 must still strive to earn D-Day troops’ sacrifice

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Youngstown, June 22, 2019 | comments
On June 6, along with much of the free world, Americans observed the 75th anniversary of D-Day – the day American and Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy to begin the liberation of Western Europe from Nazi control. I was privileged to join a few dozen of my colleagues, both Republicans and Democrats, in Normandy to commemorate the day and pay tribute to some of the men who returned 75 years later. These are the Americans who ran up the bluffs of Normandy’s beaches through a wall of Nazi machine-gun fire and dropped from the skies above to defeat an historic evil and save the world.
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On June 6, along with much of the free world, Americans observed the 75th anniversary of D-Day – the day American and Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy to begin the liberation of Western Europe from Nazi control. I was privileged to join a few dozen of my colleagues, both Republicans and Democrats, in Normandy to commemorate the day and pay tribute to some of the men who returned 75 years later. These are the Americans who ran up the bluffs of Normandy’s beaches through a wall of Nazi machine-gun fire and dropped from the skies above to defeat an historic evil and save the world.

I spent a few hours walking through the Normandy American Cemetery, an immaculately kept 172-acre plot of land where now stands 9,380 crosses and Stars of David that bear quiet testimony to the enormous sacrifice required to free the world from Hitler’s Nazi plague. It was also a stark reminder that America doesn’t conquer and plunder the lands of other nations when we answer the call to protect freedom and liberty. For freeing France, and the rest of Europe, all we asked for was enough land to bury our dead.

Brave men

In the relative comfort and security of 2019 America, it’s difficult to imagine the thoughts and emotions that America’s brave men in uniform had in 1944: young men, who had their whole lives in front of them, crammed into Higgins boats crossing the English Channel toward those Normandy beaches in the first waves of the invasion, knowing that they would likely be killed or wounded; or, the fathers and mothers back in the U.S. who heard President Franklin Roosevelt on the radio, asking every American to join him in prayer for this critical mission’s success and for protection of our brave troops.

While walking on the sacred ground of this cemetery, I found myself thinking about the movie “Saving Private Ryan” that many veterans of D-Day consider to be the most accurate depiction of the chaos, carnage, and ultimately, the heroism, that characterizes the Normandy landings. Toward the end of the film, as Tom Hanks’ character, Capt. John Miller, is taking his last breath after being fatally shot by the Nazis, he tells Pvt. Ryan, whom he and his men have risked their lives to save to “earn this.”

Sacrifice made

Standing at that cemetery overlooking Normandy’s beaches where such an epic sacrifice was made, looking over the field of white crosses, I recalled that scene from the movie, and I also thought about another quote made 20 years after the invasion. On a visit to Normandy in 1964, former President Dwight Eisenhower said, “These people gave us a chance. And they bought time for us, so we can do better than we have before.” And, these thoughts brought to mind a question.

Are we, in 2019 America, earning it? Are we doing better than we did before? Are we living lives worthy of the sacrifices that the men resting beneath the crosses in France gave us?

The landscape of today’s America is very different than 1944 America. Today, we’re deeply divided in almost every way – politically, culturally, socially, and spiritually. Americans in 1944 were not – they were united around a cause bigger than themselves. Today, many Americans carefully construct our lives online, through social media networks of the like-minded, and we demonstrate very little active local community involvement. In 1944, Americans knew their neighbors, and if a neighbor needed help, they were quick to act. Today, many of us select our news source based on what we want to hear, see and read in order to rationalize and justify our ideological and political positions. Back then, everyone heard and read the same news; and it was really the news, not some pundit’s opinion. And, in 1944, most journalists reported the news instead of trying to make news.

Common purpose

The men who stormed the treacherous beaches of Normandy and dropped from American and Allied planes into danger behind enemy lines may not have been perfect individuals – no human beings are. But, they were united in a common purpose, and they were fully prepared to sacrifice all on behalf of a grateful nation, their wives and children, and those generations of Americans yet to be born.

The DNA of that Greatest Generation still flows through the veins of each one of us. They are our fathers, mothers, grandfathers, grandmothers, and now, for many, our great grandparents. They sacrificed so much to pass on the freest most prosperous, and most generous nation mankind has ever known. We have an obligation to “earn it”, to live a life worthy of their sacrifice.

Republican Rep. Bill Johnson of Marietta represents Ohio’s 6th Congressional District that includes all of Columbiana County and the southern part of Mahoning County.

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