One hundred fifty thousand of anything is a huge number. When that’s the number of soldiers going into battle, it is staggering.
On a blustery gray morning, June 6, 1944, that many young men charged onto fifty miles of beach in the north of France. Some of them, paratroopers, had dropped out of the sky during the night and were already scattered among the hedgerows. The boys who landed there, so many of them teenagers, felt one emotion: stark terror. And with good reason. More than 4,000 Allied soldiers would never see another sunrise. Deliverance for Europe from the clutches of Nazi Germany would be bought at a dear price.
In June of 2012, the weather on Utah Beach in Normandy was not much different. Wind whipped waves into froth as gulls screeched and dove. The sun was lost behind dark clouds. A light drizzle dampened our sweatshirts. But the emotion I felt standing on that sacred sand was totally different. Gratitude. Gratitude for the sacrifice that bought freedom for millions. And gratitude for the young man standing with me: our grandson, Sam Clements.
…excerpted with edits from A Trip Around the Sun.
Today is the 73rd anniversary of a moment in the last century that journalist Andy Rooney described this way:
“There have been only a handful of days since the beginning of time on which the direction the world was taking has been changed for the better in one twenty-four- hour period by an act of man. June 6, 1944 was one of them.”
The sheer and desperate drama of it all takes one’s breath away. I have been privileged to stand on those beaches—Utah, Omaha, Sword, and Gold—several times. The feelings of deep loss and overwhelming gratefulness crash in like that unrelenting English Channel surf.
When I walk among the rows of crosses and Stars of David at the American Cemetery watching over Omaha Beach, it is too much. Too many. Too young. And, then comes a headstone with no name, just these words: “Here lies in honored glory a comrade in arms known only to God.”
The common denominator for all those who threw themselves into the battle for freedom that day was sacrifice. When I have asked leaders over the last 30 years, “What is the main quality that leaders exhibit?” The answer is always the same: “Sacrifice!”
I am grateful this day for all of those who have sacrificed so we can walk free, and speak truth, and worship without restriction. I am grateful for all of those who have given their lives in one shocking moment or a little at a time day after day in service to friends or family or country.
On this day, June 6, 2017, I honor those who have paved the way for us.
Above all, I am grateful for the One who gave sacrifice eternal meaning:
“…looking to Jesus the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)