June 6, 1944
You know what I did this morning? Maybe it would be better if I told you what I didn't do this morning.
I didn't have to spend over 12 hours on a transport ship in choppy water, then clamber down a cargo net into a plywood landing craft, all while carrying up to 100 pounds of gear on my back. Then, I didn't ride through the rough surf in that little plywood target, only to have the steel ramp (the only part of the little plywood boat that was even remotely bullet-resistant) flop down and drop me into the cold ocean water in front of a beach filled with steel obstacles, mines, flying bullets & exploding artillery rounds.
I didn't fly over enemy occupied territory at 1000 feet in a C47 cargo plane and then jump out of the plane into the teeth of enemy anti-aircraft fire. I didn't have to worry about my bright white silk parachute making me a good target for troops on the ground who wanted to use me for target practice, and after I landed, I didn't have to worry about engaging a vastly superior force with only the gear I carried with me (providing that said gear wasn't ripped off by the turbulence I encountered exiting the plane) with whoever I could gather together from the other troops dropped behind enemy lines the same as I was.
I didn't march into a plywood glider (PLYWOOD, as we've already established, is NOT very resistant to gunfire and explosions) and sit quietly while I was towed into anti-aircraft fire, only to be released and experience a controlled crash into trees, buildings or apparently open fields that were booby trapped with wooden poles and steel cables by the enemy.
I wasn't asked to take my place in a McGyvered together amphibious tank, where I would most likely be swamped by the waves and sink to the bottom of the English Channel like....well, like a tank rigged for amphibious operations with lumber and canvas. And if I DID happen to get to the beach, I would have been the prime target of every enemy artillery piece for miles around.
I wasn't asked to sit in a command bunker deep beneath London looking at casualty projections that predicted that we would lose 60% of the airborne troops committed to this battle and a good chunk of the troops storming the beaches, and I also didn't prepare a letter taking full blame for the possible disaster in order to protect my political leaders.
You know what? Now that I've told you what I DIDN'T do this morning, what I actually DID seems pretty freakin' trivial. Veterans of the Normandy landing are becoming scarce now that we're sixty-five years down the road from that horrible day, but if you know one of them, make sure to thank them on this day. And don't limit yourself to D-Day vets - whether it was Normandy, Okinawa, the Chosin Reservoir, the Tet Offensive, Grenada, Panama, Mogadishu, Fallujah, or just some godforsaken mountain road at the ass-end of Afghanistan, EVERYONE who served this country in uniform deserves a hearty handshake and our everlasting gratitude on this day.
And those veterans who never saw a shot fired in anger? Thank them too. As John Wayne once said in his last movie role, "It's not about being the fastest gun: Its about being WILLING." Everyone who wore the uniform was willing to "go see the elephant", and that willingness sets them apart from the rest of us.
God help any nation that cannot produce men and women like them. Remember that on this day.