On June 6th, 1944, the Allied forces of World War II launched the pivotal invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe, landing its forces by land, sea, and air along the coasts of Normandy, France. It was the largest seaborne invasion in human history.
Hours before the landings, Allied commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower remarked to the airmen, soldiers, and sailors under his command:
“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.”
More than 2,500 Americans would lose their lives that day, but their sacrifices were not made in vain. D-Day marked the beginning of the end of the war. A grueling slog toward Berlin continued through the following months, ending with Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender on V-E (Victory in Europe) Day: May 8th, 1945.
In the U.S., however, it’s D-Day that remains the more celebrated date. And on June 6, 2021, we observe the 77th anniversary.
Remembering Our Fallen Soldiers
D-Day has joined Memorial Day and Veterans Day as another time to reflect upon the sacrifices of our veterans and active-duty service members. As much as we, as a nation, do our best to honor these men and women through words, our actions often fall short.
Veterans continue to face extraordinary difficulties adapting to civilian life. They face higher rates of mental illness and substance abuse than the general population, and many suffer physical problems stemming from their time in the military.
Studies of medical records show 1 in every 3 veterans has been diagnosed with at least one mental health disorder. VA reports point to a much higher suicide rate among veterans when compared with the general population.
In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), roughly 20 veterans commit suicide every day.
Many of the problems veterans face stem from their time in the service, and as if that wasn’t enough, veterans also suffer a range of physical ailments, including:
- Chronic pain
- Traumatic brain injury
- Exposure to hazardous substances
Many of these injuries can become lifelong struggles, and a few can be deadly. Consider the legacy of asbestos, for example. Asbestos was widely used throughout all branches of the military for more than half a century, particularly in the construction of naval ships.
Breathing airborne asbestos can cause a range of respiratory ailments, including mesothelioma — a deadly form of cancer with no cure.
After decades of deception by asbestos importers and manufacturers of asbestos-containing products, the U.S. military began phasing out asbestos in the 1980s — after thousands of service members had already been exposed.
To this day, veterans face a far higher rate of mesothelioma than civilians. In fact, nearly a third of all new mesothelioma diagnoses in the United States are among veterans.
How can we take our words about honoring veterans seriously when we allow such a toxic substance to remain legal?
Paying Tribute to Our Soldiers on D-Day
Asbestos is just one example of how we can be doing more to match our actions with our words. Veterans need more than commemoration — they need better access to healthcare, mobility services, mental health services, skill development programs, education, and more.
Seventy-seven years ago, hundreds of thousands of brave young men set upon that “great crusade” with hardly a moment’s pause. Their country asked a sacrifice of them that they knew might prove fatal. But they did it anyway, wading into the jaws of death in hopes of a better world.
However one chooses to honor the sacrifice of service members — be they veterans of D-Day or active duty — is up to each individual.
For those willing to travel, there are memorials and museums throughout the country, some of which honor the Normandy Invasion in particular. The National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia, serves as the national memorial for American D-Day veterans.
For others, national veterans organizations and charities are always in need of help — be it through financial donation or volunteer work.
On this D-Day, think about how you can do your part to honor the legacies of the soldiers who lost their lives during the invasion of Normandy. Let us be certain that we always remember their sacrifices.