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D-Day: the Danger of Fading Memories

“It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather, we should thank God that such men lived.” - General George Patton

Photo credit: U.S. National Archives
American paratroopers land in Normandy on June 6, 1944

My husband and I have been watching HBO’s Band of Brothers, considered one of the best mini-series of all time. It follows a group of paratroopers in the 101st Airborne’s “Easy Company”, leading up to and following their brave landing into Normandy on D-Day. These young soldiers jumped out of planes with a leap of faith, knowing full well they might die before hitting the ground. The raw emotion, bravery and sacrifice brought tears to my eyes; feelings of gratitude and pride to be American. But today, on the 77th anniversary of D-Day, I started thinking: is that flooding Patriotic feeling now an anomaly?

According to National D-Day Memorial statistics, just 1.8% of the 16 million WWII veterans are still alive. The youngest one is 87. He lied about his age and enlisted at just 15 years old. According to the Veterans of Underage Military Service, at least 200,000 men and women fudged their ages to help with the war effort. Can you imagine that many teens lying about their age today – to go to war? I can’t, either. What’s changed?

For one, it’s awareness. I’m a Millennial and my parents were born during the post-war Baby Boom. They grew up in the direct aftermath of World War II, and I grew up hearing stories of the war directly from my grandparents. The Greatest Generation.

“We’ve kind of lost touch a little bit, I think, with our military and the sacrifices that not only our military men and women make, but their families,” National D-Day Memorial Foundation President April Cheek-Messier recently told Fox News. With World War II veterans dying off as Gen Z kids come of age, the direct connection to the war - and the reason America fought - is fading fast.

Photo credit: U.S. National Archives
D-Day veteran Wayne Chase pauses to reflect at the grave of an unknown soldier at the Normandy American Cemetery.

If you’d like a refresher on why America had to get involved...the Japanese attacked American soil when they bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941. Meanwhile, Hitler was conquering our European allies one by one, inching toward his ultimate goal of world domination. The Germans even began working on the Amerikabomber, a long range bomber that could strike the US directly from Germany. Thank God the nightmare of a German victory never came to fruition.

Since World War II, America’s subsequent wars have generally been met with more protest and controversy. Our collective memory of strong popular support for a war effort is fading.

How can we reinstate pride in our military? Even if we don’t agree with the politics of a particular war, it’s a mistake to lump those sentiments in with the men and women who are off fighting on our behalf. These brave Americans are risking their lives because they believe in our country and the peace and freedom we enjoy. Basically so we can relax on the couch. Next time you kick your feet up and turn on the TV, consider watching Band of Brothers.

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