". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13

Commentary

D-Day at 80: A Grateful World Remembers

June 6, 2024

“Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor…” President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave this D-Day prayer during the heat of battle on June 6, 1944. Not only did these men have the “pride of our Nation,” I recently learned they have the gratitude of the world.

In May, I had the privilege of traveling to the Normandy coast where the Allied forces accomplished their “mighty endeavor” on D-Day. I was expecting to feel moved by the wind-swept beaches and cliffs I had previously seen only in my history books and on YouTube videos — and I was, to be sure. However, what I was not expecting were the displays of gratitude and thankfulness I saw among homes, farmyards, and businesses along the coast.

The stretch of Normandy beaches where the Allied Forces launched Operation Overlord on D-Day — an air, land, and sea assault against the occupying force — is a living testimony, both to the harshness of the battles but also to the gratefulness of a liberated nation. As my husband and I drove among the towns by the sea, I was amazed by the amount of American flags I saw flying. Everywhere — in yards, on farms, in the storefront windows. And not just American flags, but flags from many of the Allied forces who took part in D-Day: Britain, Canada, France, and others. Some homes had full-sized flags flying, some had mini flags draped in bunting across their yard, others had small flags dotting their landscape. But in almost every yard we saw, the American flag or flags from the Allied nations were adorning people’s homes.

While it was refreshing to see such patriotism, I couldn’t help but wonder — why? Why are so many citizens of Normandy, France flying flags from other countries? Was it a coordinated effort to commemorate the approaching D-Day anniversary? I imagine to some extent it was. Who leads it? And do some people complain about the flags, or feel offended, like they do in America?

This flag-flying patriotism gave me pause. At home, the American flag is seen by some as insulting or a sign of colonization. Others hold no respect whatsoever for the Stars and Stripes. (Remember the recent flag burnings we saw at pro-Hamas demonstrations?) How can our flag be celebrated and proudly flown in a foreign country, while denigrated here at home?

What’s more, the French citizens living in these homes and farms were likely not alive when D-Day occurred. Why are they still flying the flags of the Allied forces, some 80 years later? Where does this spirit of patriotism and gratitude come from? Why do they even care?

As it is with many things, I’m guessing the patriotism and gratitude I witnessed for D-Day was handed down and taught from one generation to the next. Families and neighbors have likely shared stories of what happened that day, schools have taught D-Day history lessons, and cities have embraced celebrations and parades to commemorate what the Allied forces did in 1944. On the day I visited the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, busloads of French high schoolers were being dropped off to tour the cemetery and listen to presentations.

And this appreciation extends beyond the Normandy coast. When my husband and I stopped at the Flanders Field American Cemetery in Belgium, we saw gratitude for the American soldiers who lost their lives there during World War I. In this cemetery, every year on America’s Memorial Day, a service is held by the locals to honor the Americans who died helping to liberate Belgium. Elementary school children attend the service, sing the American national anthem, and wave American flags. Locals adopt the graves of the servicemembers buried there, learn the history of these soldiers, and bring flowers to decorate their graves.

To see this level of gratitude shown on foreign soil for the efforts of American soldiers was humbling. And at the same time sad. Why are so many in our own country anti-American? Why are they not grateful to be citizens of the land of the free and the home of the brave? Perhaps it comes down to the same reason these foreign countries show gratitude for what the American soldiers did — education, or lack thereof.

In the effort to scrub all offensiveness from American history, have we washed away the good too? The Judeo-Christian values that founded this nation are often scoffed at. Many Americans want to deny that our Founding Fathers declared “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Last week, during a talk at Family Research Council, Dr. Ben Carson warned, “It’s impossible for us to maintain the kind of freedom that we have if we don’t understand what those cornerstone principles are that made us into a great nation.”

Let’s teach factual American history in our schools, both the good and the bad. This generation should learn from our past mistakes while also learning what makes our nation exceptional. We are not a perfect nation, but thanks to our founding principles, and the heroic actions of those who have gone before us, we are still a free nation with “liberty and justice for all.”

Take a page from our neighbors across the pond and celebrate this D-Day by hanging your American flag in the yard. Tell your kids the heroic actions of the men who stormed the beaches, scaled the cliffs, and parachuted into a hail of bullets that day. Post on social media the D-Day prayer that President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave to the nation. Google the Normandy-American Cemetery and look at the row upon row of white marble crosses marking the military dead. Watch the famous speech President Ronald Reagan delivered on the 40th D-Day anniversary in honor of the men who “stood and fought against tyranny in a giant undertaking unparalleled in human history.”

It was a truly heroic accomplishment. And the free world today owes the men of D-Day a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid.

Keri Boeve serves as Family Research Council’s director of Social Media.