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It's a dreary, rainy day today here in the Midwest.

64 years ago today, it was a cloudy and rainy day when the largest invasion force in history crossed the English Channel to take back Europe from Hitler and his evil empire. It's worth remembering.

By this time of the day, midday, the British had taken Sword beach with light casualties and were progressing on Gold beach with heavier casualties. The Canadians were progressing on Juno beach, although they had suffered devastating casualties in their first wave. The American at Utah beach, blown 1 mile off course had encountered light resistance. General Teddy Roosevelt, Jr., (son of the president and the only general in the first wave) upon discovering the error, personally reconnoitered the unfamiliar beach and announced "We will start the war from right here" and moved inland. The movie "The Longest Day" is a pretty good, although sanitized, overview of the entire invasion, start to finish. Turner Classic movies plays it now and then (Set your TiVo for Wed. June 18 at 6:15 AM if you didn't catch it last night).

Unfortunately, the Americans at Omaha beach were having a tougher time. Allied intelligence missed the Germans had switched the weak division defending the beach with the one of their best battle-hardened divisions. Hitler had spent 4 years building the "Atlantic Wall" fortifying the entire coast. Omaha was the most heavily fortified beach that day, with high bluffs defended by funneled mortars, machine guns, and artillery. Most of the landings had drifted off course, and the first waves were simply shredded by Nazi machine gun and artillery fire. "[W]ithin 10 minutes of the ramps being lowered, [the leading] company had become inert, leaderless and almost incapable of action. Every officer and sergeant had been killed or wounded [...] It had become a struggle for survival and rescue".

Omaha beach is depicted, graphically, in the first 15 minutes of Spielberg's excellent film, "Saving Private Ryan." If you can bear the gore (or just close your eyes) it's a must-see film.

Over 130,000 men went ashore that day, with over 190,000 sailors and air support. There were over 10,000 Allied casualties. Over 14 million Allied soldiers were killed in World War II (the vast majority Russians), as were over 70 million soldiers and civilians on both sides.

As my father's generation ages, we must remember the heroic sacrifice these soldiers made. Tom Brokaw wrote in his book that this "Greatest Generation" simply saved the world. It started long before D-day, and it continued long after. But today it is appropriate to honor their sacrifice, and the sacrifice made by all who wear the uniform of free nations.

I won't ruin the "Private Ryan" by telling you the ending. But the penultimate two words spoken to Private Ryan are a message to us in modern society that enjoy the fruits of their sacrifice. Tom Brokaw told us that this "Greatest Generation" saved the world. "Saving Private Ryan" tells all of us, in no uncertain terms, to "Earn this."

Written by Joe Crumley

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