The Allied invasion of Normandy was 76 years ago today. And to commentate it, I offer up not just one of the best speeches I’ve ever heard on the military, it’s one of my favorite pieces of presidential oratory ever. This is Ronald Reagan at the 40th anniversary event. Describing, as well as can be described, the stakes, the peril and the valor of the Army Rangers who climbed the cliffs with unimaginable enemy hellfire being reigned down upon them. And when he says “These are the Boys of Pointe du Hoc,” and you realize the boys he’s referring to, seated off to his side, are in their 60s and most if not all are no longer with us, it’s impossible not to feel it in your soul.
And of course not just those Rangers, but the Poles who got out in front of the Allied advance as they pushed the German lines back. The Canadians who took Juno beach. And thousands upon thousands of others.
Just to embellish the speech a little, here’s a longer excerpt from the Stephen Spender poem “The Truly Great” that he references:
Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields,
See how these names are fêted by the waving grass
And by the streamers of white cloud
And whispers of wind in the listening sky.
The names of those who in their lives fought for life,
Who wore at their hearts the fire’s centre.
Born of the sun, they travelled a short while toward the sun
And left the vivid air signed with their honour.
And the story of Billy Millin, he mentions, the soldier who led his fellow Scotsmen forward across Sword beach and straight into German fire blowing his bagpipes all the way, and his commander Lord Lovat who arrived at the bridge that was his unit’s assigned target and apologized for being late, is best immortalized in this song, one of my all time favorite Irish punk songs ever:
And just to round it out, this re-enactment of the climb up Pointe du Hoc by current Rangers, some packing the same gear that their predecessors wore when they came shore into Hell on Earth in 1944 and did nothing less than save the world:
Nobody needs to be reminded we’re in a bad situation right now. But I think we could all use a reminder that the generations before us faced much, much worse. And it brought out the best the human spirit has to offer. Courage. Valor. Self-sacrifice. Impossible feats of endurance. And good triumphing over evil. Maybe today we can honor them by having 2020 bring out the best in us.