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What Does June 6 Mean to You?

For baby boomers whose childhoods fell during the two decades after the end of World War II, the memory of that conflict was never far from view. The war was deeply embedded in the popular culture of the day in terms of movies and television shows. And though much of our current impressions of the fight against Nazi Germany is seen, quite rightly, through the prism of the Holocaust, in that era to speak of the war was to conjure up images of glorious victory and the heroism and sacrifice of the Allied troops, who were often our fathers and uncles. To us, it was impossible — and is, in fact, still difficult — to hear or read the dates most associated with the war — December 7 and June 6 — without thinking of what happened on those days in 1941 and 1944. Thus today, like many others of my generation — the sons and daughters of that “greatest generation” — my thoughts turn to the invasion of Normandy and of those who played great parts in that drama as well as those who assumed small but by no means unimportant roles such as my own father, a member of the U.S. 8th Air Force.

But to the geniuses who run Google, that juggernaut that is part of the lifeblood of our commerce and culture, June 6 does not summon up thoughts of that famous “Longest Day” when American, British and other Allied troops stormed Hitler’s Fortress Europe. It is, instead, the anniversary of the first drive-in movie that apparently opened its doors on June 6, 1933. It is that event that is noted today in the Google Doodle on the ubiquitous search page that is as much the public square of the contemporary world as anything else you can name. While one must attribute this curious choice to the passage of time and the sea change in our culture, it also says something not particularly flattering about both the computer nerds at Google and the majority of the population whose attitudes they surely reflect.

It may be that commemorations of World War II are now the province of the military and ancient veterans rather than television or the movies as it was during my childhood. The surviving veterans of that conflict are few. Most, like my own father of blessed memory, are gone now and what remains are our memories of them as well as the keepsakes such as his ribbons and campaign medals (including the small piece of cloth on which sits a battle star that signified his participation in D-Day) that sit in their velvet-lined box in the drawer of the desk at which I now sit and write.

Soon the D-Day veterans will be no more, and some day their children will also be gone. That was as true of the veterans of Valley Forge and Gettysburg as it is of Normandy. But think of how impoverished our spirit as a nation will be if, in the future, we think more about drive-ins than of Omaha Beach, Sainte-Mère-Église or the Pointe du Hoc. There is no current shortage of heroes, as the exploits of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan prove every day. But an America that no longer associates the date June 6 with D-Day will have lost one of its most precious memories.

So, I’m thankful to RealClearPolitics for placing on its list of important political articles of the day, the text of President Ronald Reagan’s wonderful speech delivered on the 40th anniversary of D-Day delivered at the invasion site and dedicated to “The Boys of Pointe du Hoc.” Let’s hope that someone will circulate this to the drive-in fans at Google. President Reagan concluded it thusly:

Here, in this place where the West held together, let us make a vow to our dead. Let us show them by our actions that we understand what they died for. Let our actions say to them the words for which Matthew Ridgway listened: “I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.”

Strengthened by their courage and heartened by their valor and borne by their memory, let us continue to stand for the ideals for which they lived and died.

Thank you very much, and God bless you all.

May the memory of all the veterans as well as the great communicator who honored them be for a blessing.