June 6 is today’s date. “So what?” you say. “What’s significant about today’s date?” Well, it depends upon who you ask. For some, it is the date of their birth, or the anniversary of their marriage, or some other significant event in their lives.
Occasionally, however, a date on the calendar takes on special significance as it marks a singular event that encompassed the lives of multiple generations and nationalities. June 6 is such a date.
Seventy years ago today, 156,000 Allied soldiers, sailors and airmen began the heroic effort to reclaim Western Europe from Nazi domination as they literally put their “lives on the line” during the invasion of Normandy that has become known as “D-Day.” On that day, it was as if the collective population of planet Earth held its breath in anticipation of what the outcome might be. If the Allied forces failed, Hitler’s Nazi regime would be free to pursue its evil agenda not simply in Europe, but on every continent of the world. If the Allies were to triumph, the prospects of liberty would be resuscitated.
Sadly, time has dulled the memory of that day. For most, today will come and go without any recognition of its sublime significance. Nursing homes whose residents lived the reality of June 6, 1944, will be paternalistically tended as helpless members of society whose debility has rendered them as no more than inconvenient, aged children.
But it was those “children” who literally fought and sacrificed for the liberty we abuse – and is now refused them. They were the ones to live with the loss of future dreams. They were the ones who put their personal agendas on hold so as to pledge their substance and very lives in a struggle for the security and future of others, unknown and yet to be born. They were the ones who not only pledged, but sacrificed their lives and their loved ones so that we might live free of tyranny’s threat.
This reality leaves us with a question and a moral obligation. How are we to regard these remarkable people? How are we to live our lives so as to not diminish the inheritance they have left us?
The first question can be answered with a single word: Honor. God not only commands us to honor our fathers and mothers, but it was Jesus himself who observed with honor the fact that, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13 NIV).
Next time you see that frail-looking, 90-plus-year-old man struggling to navigate his car, or get through the checkout line, grant the possibility that he was once strong and brave – willing to die in defense of your privilege to live free. Take a moment to hear his story. Express your gratitude for his gift in securing your liberty.
“How should we then live?” is more than a moral question prompted by the heroic acts of “The Greatest Generation” – it is the actual title of a book by the late Francis Shaeffer – who rejected the notion that “man is his own measure” in favor of the embrace of God’s own declarative descriptions of moral gratitude. The Apostle Paul gives voice to this question’s answer when he says: “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” (Romans 12:9-12, NIV)
The “Greatest Generation” of D-Day was no more inherently noble than any other generation of human history. What made them noble was their actions of selflessness and sacrifice. Remembering what they did is an act of self-interest that presents us with the information and inspiration to live as they did. Honoring them by choosing the path they chose is nothing short of our obligation before God.
Tim Clark is pastor of Emmanuel Christian Church, New Vernon Township.