June 6, 2019, the 75th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy, brought together leaders of the United States and European nations to commemorate the sacrifices made that day 75 years ago. A few survivors attended the ceremony. Needless to say, they were all very old men.
Historians and commentators marveled at their dedication and most reported interviews in which the men still wondered why they made it and others didn’t. But never once that I heard or read did any question their duty to serve their country.
“We had to fight. We had to win,” I heard one say and follow with his belief that to lose would mean the loss of freedom.
Every June, my husband wears his hat commemorating D-Day we bought on a visit to Normandy. I’ve written before how significant June 6 has become to me because he is one of those old men who at the age of 18 was scheduled to be in the invasion of Japan.
What creates great emotion in me starting with a huge welling in my chest and flowing to and out my eyes is that he also knew his death was likely in an invasion of Japan. He was a Navy medic and knew that, like the Germans, the Japanese soldiers would first aim at medics. Once bent on the ground over a casualty, medics are no longer a moving target.
Even knowing that, he never questioned going; he and all the men felt it was their duty. He and thousands of other mostly men, mostly young were willing to risk their lives. They too were doing it for their country.
He and they would never call doing their duty an act of bravery. I believe it was and is to this day for the men and women who go into battle.
The American cemetery in Normandy held more than 9000 graves of mostly men who died in the invasion. According to one report (C N Trueman “Operation Downfall”), the Joint Chiefs of Staff estimated the two-part invasion of Japan would result in 1.2 million casualties, with 267,000 deaths. Another estimate was as high as 400,000 to 800,000 deaths by the end of both invasions.
I was surprised to learn that President Truman did not know America had developed a powerful atomic bomb before he became president when President Roosevelt died April 1945 and stunned to learn that neither did the military. Top secret.
Imagine the debates they had once they knew, and how difficult to weigh the options and the lives lost either way.
Imagine unleashing a power that could ultimately destroy all life.
Imagine the gravity of the decision to send people into situations of war that mean certain death for many.
It’s believed that the prediction of unprecedented loss of life led to President Truman’s decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan. As a patriotic husband says, “Truman dropped the bomb and saved my life.”
Still, many were and are willing to risk their lives to save others and the values of our democracy. We’ve learned that it’s as instinctual as it is inspired.
Most of us who were alive remember the first responders who went into the falling trade centers on 9ll. We remember the men and women who volunteered in a spirit of love of country to protect us following the heinous attack.
Many since have made the sacrifice of their lives and some of limbs and some of enduring mental health.
Yet, we were not asked to sacrifice. We were asked to shop and keep the economy going. We were asked to try to get back to normal. I can even recall feeling a sense of relief that our leaders thought we would be fine, but later realized it was the during the fog of denial that such an invasion could happen to our country.
Years followed and we weren’t even asked to sacrifice by
paying taxes to pay for the wars started in the name of 911. Instead, we grew our national debt. Instead, we rebel when we think we must sacrifice health care access for all to pay the debt.
A certain sadness
We are a land of plenty and we’ve elected people who don’t want to share our plenty, not even with some other Americans. They don’t seem to want to play together anymore. The big war of sacrifice to save free peoples and countries from domination and oppression resulted in coalitions of mutual “got your back” organizations and treaties with other countries that grew over 75 years.
Instead now, we turn our back.
We’re dropping out, taking our plenty and going home. We’re replacing world leadership with economic and political self-interest. Now we use our economic power built on capitalism and consumerism against other countries in a warlike manner.
Make no mistake, certain moves and threats ask for American sacrifice. The promise is the short-term pain of lost markets and increased cost of essentials will result in long-term gain. I want it to be true.
I want to trust. I want to believe that we are not turning the sacrifice and bravery of so many lost lives into instruments of power indiscriminately used against others. I do not think that people who have not sacrificed or shed tears for someone who has, even an unknown of whom they read will fully feel the weight of consequences of their decisions. I want to be wrong.
I want my husband not to be sad because the values he was willing to die for are fading without a fight.
Bertha Cooper spent her career years as a health care organization and program administrator and consultant and is a featured columnist in Sequim Gazette. Cooper has lived in Sequim with her husband for nearly 20 years. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.