How do we remember D-Day?
Twelve days ago was the 65th anniversary of the American and British invasion of Nazi-occupied Normandy. The events of June 6, 1944, D-Day, are worthy subject matter for an epic poem by Homer himself. As the ancient Greeks landed on the beach of Asia Minor to lay siege on Troy thousands of years ago, so too the Allied soldiers of World War II disembarked from their landing craft, assaulted the German defense bunkers and machine-gun nests, and began the liberation of continental Europe. The Allies even prepared a Trojan horse of their own: deception programs named Operation Fortitude and Operation Bodyguard fooled the Germans into expecting an Allied amphibious assault in anywhere but Normandy.
How do we in the United States remember D-Day? As an expatriate of the former Soviet Union, I had observed in that country a reverence of its victories during World War II bordering on worship. The business of the Soviet people halted every year for Victory Day; parades, recollection, thanksgiving, military pageantry, and storytelling about the war permeated the land. This is not the way we remember D-Day in America. A few newspaper articles buried underneath other headlines and a visit by President Obama to the military cemetery in France sufficed as our annual memorial of this event. There definitely did not seem to be a national spirit of remembrance.
What story will we tell about this epic day in American history? Will it be a Homeric tale of heroes and timeless deeds? For Christians, do the Scriptures – which ascribe all glory to God – preclude us from remembering it in this way? To forget altogether, due to laziness or otherwise, would be a loss to culture. While recently reading Walt Whitman’s poem about the end of the American Civil War, “Spirit Whose Work is Done”, I thought that his invocation could well apply to the memory of this more recent war:
“[. . .] Spirit of hours I knew, all hectic red one day, but pale as
death next day,
Touch my mouth ere you depart, press my lips lose,
Leave me your pulses of rage – bequeath them to me – fill me
with currents convulsive,
Let them scorch and blister out of my chants when you are
Let them identify you to the future in these songs.”