June 6 marks the anniversary of D-Day, the Normandy invasion of World War II. The day that marked the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany. It was the largest assemblage of men and material in all history. The date and the event still cause many to pause and consider. I am one of those who each year, on the anniversary of this great battle, awakens and remember what one soldier did that day.
Staff Sargent Lloyd McNeely was a combat engineer who was among the first to crawl ashore that morning. He survived the day and the war. As I write this the silk map of France he carried ashore that day, along with his dog tag, hangs on a wall behind me. Every day I think about what he did, and what he became, the day he stepped out of that LST and led his men ashore.
My father was a farm boy from Missouri. He did not think about bravery or courage in advance of that event. I think he just understood duty, self-reliance and friendship. One of his hometown comrades died in his arms that morning. He did his job and went home and for him life was never the same again. On Omaha Beach that day I think he saw all that was real and everything from that day forward was judged against that event.
A strong case can be made that the invasion of that day was the most significant event not only of the war but also of the twentieth century—certainly nothing since then compares. Had the soldiers not secured the beaches on that first day the world would not likely be what we know today. I know this sounds over the top but a lot of smart people who study these matters say this. I'll let others argue the matter. All I am sure of is my father surveyed that day, and the rest of the war, and I have spent a lifetime marveling at what he and the others did that day.
I chose a different path in life. I never went to war. I have no heroic illusions about war nor did my father. When America entered the Korean conflict and there was a possibility he could be drafted again he was known to have said, "They better bring more than one to get me, because I am not going back!" In 1990 he lamented that his nephew was being shipped off to Iraq to fight in Desert Storm. He knew what war did to the mind and heart.
So every June 6 I pause and remember what happened that day on a beach in France. And I keep working to be the kind of man my father was.