Honoring Heroes: Reflections of D-Day and Reagan’s Legacy

The Passing of the Torch

The 80th Anniversary of the Allied Forces’ storied sacrifices and triumph of D-Day was an important one because it marks perhaps the final monumental commemoration in which our World War Two veterans will attend the ceremonies in remembrance. As the Greatest Generation leaves us to become the torchbarriors of their legacies, it’s clear that we walk in the shadows of giants. 

We were given the daunting task of distilling and honoring the profound historical significance of June 6, 1944’s landing on the beaches at Normandy. And, by some measures, we failed.

Contemplating the Commemoration

On Thursday morning, I viewed the ceremony held in Normandy, where U.S. President Joe Biden’s remarks about “tyranny on the march” were thinly veiled partisan jabs at his political rival, former President Donald Trump. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Antony Blinken invoked the conflict in Ukraine in his analogy de jour, and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak left the ceremony early, to do an interview. 

I felt conflicted about the chosen displays and imagery of American flags alongside France’s because it gave the impression that it was a US-French military feat while wilfully overlooking some of our allied counterparts due to the addition of a modern political lens. During the ceremony, I didn’t see British flags, or Canadian ones, and certainly not any representation of the Soviet’s Red Army which made massive contributions and sacrifices in the European theater to defeat Adolf Hitler’s Nazis. What I did see, instead, was Ukraine’s President Voldomyr Zelensky. 

In case the political messaging had not been clear, the unscrupulous former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, tweeted to tell Americans that the takeaway from D-Day’s 80th Anniversary, was that we are supposed to vote for Joe Biden. 

It wasn’t a day for politics but for statesmanship. Normandy is the altar of liberation for Europe, not a campaign stop. 

A Tribute at the Reagan Library

But, that feeling of discontent wouldn’t last. I attended the D-Day program at Ronald Reagan’s Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. I was given the honor to be a RedState contributor in attendance because of my deeply personal connection to World War Two, coming from a lineage of 6 servicemen who served in the war and fought some of America’s most historic battles at Pearl Harbor, Iwo Jima and The Bulge, where my family’s Silver Star recipient rests eternally with General Patton in Luxembourg. 

Once at the ceremony, I shed tears as soon as the 40th Infantry Division Band of the California Army National Guard began to play. When the Condor Squadron of Van Nuys flyover performed the Missing Man formation, I knew that this was how it should feel. As the guests and honorees were introduced, the crowd couldn’t be convinced to hold back their applause as the four WW2 veterans were announced, lending to back-to-back standing ovations. 

Reagan’s Enduring Legacy

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library always presents with excellence and is a true jewel of President Reagan’s enduring legacy. I get a feeling of being on consecrated or hallowed ground every time I visit the library, and as a younger person who wasn’t aware of Reagan’s Administration during his time in the White House, I always feel like I knew him personally by the time I leave. At a time when Americans are looking for leadership, Reagan sets the bar as a man of strength, character, and charisma. 

That legacy includes the historic speeches he gave in Normandy in 1984. The library’s commemoration featured panelists who joined President Reagan there 40 years ago this day, including Lisa Zanatta Henn, whose father PFC Peter Robert Zenatta was among the First Wave on Omaha Beach, and Hon. James Kuhn, assistant to the President in the Reagan White House. 

Undoubtedly, Reagan’s words and impact are the high marks the Biden Administration was chasing during Thursday’s ceremony in Normandy, as my colleague Bonchie wrote about previously:

READ MORE: Biden’s Handlers Wanted a ‘Gipper Moment’ in Normandy, What They Got Was a Disaster

Our modern leaders cannot have a Reagan-esque moment with cheap political quips and snubs. Even amid the Cold War, four decades ago, Reagan had the humility and decency to acknowledge the Soviet Union’s 20 million plus casualties during his famed speech while honoring the “Boys of Pointe du Hoc,” our U.S. Army Rangers. 

Reagan addresses the Cold War conflict with optimism for a future where the threat of war is minimized, and both superpowers work towards peace and disarmament. He said:

 But we try always to be prepared for peace; prepared to deter aggression; prepared to negotiate the reduction of arms; and, yes, prepared to reach out again in the spirit of reconciliation. In truth, there is no reconciliation we would welcome more than a reconciliation with the Soviet Union, so, together, we can lessen the risks of war, now and forever.
It’s fitting to remember here the great losses also suffered by the Russian people during World War II: 20 million perished, a terrible price that testifies to all the world the necessity of ending war. I tell you from my heart that we in the United States do not want war. We want to wipe from the face of the Earth the terrible weapons that man now has in his hands. And I tell you, we are ready to seize that beachhead. We look for some sign from the Soviet Union that they are willing to move forward, that they share our desire and love for peace, and that they will give up the ways of conquest. There must be a changing there that will allow us to turn our hope into action.

Answering the Call

Americans face the solemn task of upholding the shared optimism and values cherished by the Greatest Generation, as they depart and entrust us with their legacy. Reagan affirmed that democracy was worth sacrificing for:

One’s country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man.

As we commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day and beyond, questions arise about our role. How do we honor the sacrifices of the past? A panelist at the Reagan Library provided a simple answer: “Be a good American.” Cameron Toor, a retired 75th Ranger Regiment member, reminded us of the importance of strong families in building resilient communities and nations.

Living the Legacy

Reagan’s leadership was marked by a profound understanding of humanity, particularly evident in his treatment of veterans. His ability to connect with the American people left an indelible mark on our collective consciousness. Reagan said:

The freedom we enjoy today was secured by great men and at great cost. Today, let us remember their courage and pray for the guidance and strength to do what we must so that no generation is ever asked to make so great a sacrifice again.

Following Reagan’s example, let us embrace the human element in our actions, striving to be worthy inheritors. The freedom we enjoy was bought with great sacrifice, but we aren’t asked to storm beaches. Instead, we are called to be “good Americans,” embodying the enduring principles of freedom, democracy, and service to others.

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