Today is June 6.
Ten years ago, I wrote a piece for the newspaper I then worked for commemorating the 60th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy, one of the pivotal moments of the Second World War. I've repeated it on this journal every so often since then. This may be the last year I do so; today, most of the people I had in mind when I wrote it have gone.
Come with me for a minute.
It's late in the evening of Monday, June 5, 1944. You're a young American, 18, 19, 20 years old. You're in England, maybe by choice, probably not.
You're a sailor in the Navy, on a destroyer, a battleship, a cruiser - crossing a few miles of pitching sea toward a rendezvous with destiny. All around you is the greatest fleet ever assembled. Anywhere. Ever. It'd be a magnificent sight if you could see it, but of course you can't. All the ships are running blacked out. Don't you know there's a war on?
You're a soldier in the Army, packed aboard a landing ship with what seems like all your gear and half of somebody else's. It's raining like hell, been raining for weeks, been raining since you got to England. You're soaked, you're cold, you're seasick.
You're a paratrooper, checking your equipment for the hundredth time, wondering if there's anything more you can possibly bring that might give you the edge, waiting for your officers to tell you it's time to climb into the planes you'll be jumping out of in a few hours. You've jumped before - you had to do it five times just to earn those boots on your feet and those wings on your chest - but this time will be diffferent. This time you'll be falling toward people who want to kill you.
You're an airman, maybe a fighter pilot, maybe a member of a bomber crew. Flying over Hitler's Fortress Europe is nothing new for you, but the mission you're gearing up for now IS different. You're not going to Berlin or Regensburg or Schweinfurt in the morning. You're just going across the Channel to knock on the fortress door... hard.
You're a Coast Guardsman at the helm of a landing craft, risking your neck for the war effort just like all these guys from the more famous services. Most members of later generations won't even realize you were here. They'll assume the Coast Guard was back home, patrolling U.S. territorial waters for U-boats and living the good life on shore. They won't remember you and the hundreds of your brothers, some of whom got blown out of the water trying to get the men to the beach, until some better-informed person reminds them.
Maybe you're not an American at all. Maybe you're an Englishman, heading back across the Channel, itching to get a piece of Jerry and get some of your own back for the humiliation of Dunkirk. Maybe you're a Canadian, or an Australian, or a New Zealander, ready to fight for King and Empire. Maybe you're a Frenchman, or a Pole, or a Czech, hungry for an even more personal revenge against the men who took away your country earlier in the decade.
Whoever you are, you have a piece of paper in your pocket, and written on it are the words of the one man who controls more military force than any other single commander in history - a man who knows that his name is at the bottom of the sheet, but at the end of the day, it's your shoulders on which the fate of the world rests.
Order of the Day, June 6, 1944
ALLIED EXPEDITIONARY FORCE
Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!
You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hope and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.
Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely.
But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!
I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory!
Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.
Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower
Good luck, soldier.
In the morning, you and your buddies are going to save the world.
And sixty years later, the people living in the future you bled to secure will still be thanking you for it.
Also in audio form, if you like.