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D-Day 80th anniversary: The true legacy of Normandy

OpinionD-Day 80th anniversary: The true legacy of Normandy

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Eighty years ago, 73,000 courageous American soldiers stormed the shores of Normandy, charging forward through long odds and heavy fire to unshackle a continent from the grip of tyranny. In this singular moment, the United States demonstrated to allies and adversaries alike our willingness to lead the charge to defend democracy, a sacred commitment that our nation has embraced over the decades since that historic event.

On the 40th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, President Ronald Reagan spoke to this spirit from atop the rugged cliffs of Pointe du Hoc — where American Rangers once scaled treacherous heights to destroy an enemy artillery position. He lionized the heroes of the Greatest Generation for putting their lives on the line for democracy, which he called “the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man.” He recalled the bitter lessons of two world wars, that it was “better to be here ready to protect the peace than … rushing to respond only after freedom is lost.” And he evoked the promise God made to Joshua, pledging to our allies: “I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.”

President Reagan gave two speeches in Normandy on June 6, 1984, when he delivered one of his most famous speeches highlighting the heroic actions of the "boys of Pointe du Hoc."

President Reagan gave two speeches in Normandy on June 6, 1984, when he delivered one of his most famous speeches highlighting the heroic actions of the “boys of Pointe du Hoc.” ( David Hume Kennerly / Contributor)

Four decades later, the world still faces stern threats to democracy — and still demands dependable American leadership to light the way. In President Joe Biden, we are fortunate to have a leader who carries forward the grand tradition of Roosevelt and Reagan and recognizes that preserving the promise of democracy is the defining challenge of our time.

D-DAY AT 80: ONE MORE MISSION TO NORMANDY FOR THE GREATEST GENERATION

After four years of American retreat from its leadership responsibilities around the globe, President Biden took office promising to stand strong for freedom and democracy, stand by our allies and partners, and stand up to autocrats and tyrants throughout the world.

Over the last three years, that’s precisely what he has done. Reviving Reagan’s vision of the transatlantic alliance as “our shield for freedom, for prosperity, and for peace,” President Biden strengthened and expanded NATO to include North Macedonia, Finland, and Sweden. At the same time, he revitalized the Indo-Pacific partnership and repaired frayed bonds with America’s friends all over the world. 

When Vladimir Putin launched his full-scale invasion of Ukraine — seeking to topple a neighboring democracy and splinter our NATO alliance — President Biden’s leadership was put to the test. His clear and forceful response would make Roosevelt and Reagan proud: rallying an international coalition to stand up to Russia, heeding the lessons of history that a tyrant’s victory anywhere threatens the security of free people everywhere.

It is difficult to believe that the apparent Republican candidate for the presidency rejects the Reagan legacy of the United States world leadership.

D-Day 80th anniversary

US WWII veterans gather in the town center of Sainte-Mere-Eglise, northwestern France, on June 5, 2024, as part of the “D-Day” commemorations marking the 80th anniversary of the World War II Allied landings in Normandy. The D-Day ceremonies on June 6 this year mark the 80th anniversary since the launch of ‘Operation Overlord’, a vast military operation by Allied forces in Normandy, which turned the tide of World War II, eventually leading to the liberation of occupied France and the end of the war against Nazi Germany. (MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP via Getty Images)

During his four years in office, President Trump rejected and neglected our allies, bent a knee to dictators, and left America isolated and alone. Just recently, he declared that he would encourage Russia to “do whatever the hell they want” to our transatlantic allies — and even suggested he’d withdraw NATO support for Ukraine, forcing President Zelenskyy to surrender to Putin.

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Here at home, we all watched in horror as Trump became the first president to try to reverse the results of a free and fair election by instigating a violent attack on the Capitol. This time around, he’s explicitly running a campaign of revenge and retribution, pledging a “bloodbath” if he loses. And he’s made it his mission to pursue power at all costs — unrestrained by our laws or Constitution

Our brave and courageous service members stormed the beaches of Normandy, to protect our Constitution, our freedoms, and our country. The last thing we should do in their memory is to betray the enduring values of freedom, peace, and security that so many Americans have given their last full measure of devotion to defend.   

US Army troops crowd into a navy landing craft infantry ship during the D-Day Invasion of Normandy

US Army troops crowd into a navy landing craft infantry ship during the D-Day Invasion of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944.   (US Navy/Getty Images)

Trump’s words and actions are a betrayal of the brave servicemembers who stormed the beaches of Normandy — and a betrayal of the enduring values of freedom, peace, and security that so many Americans have given their last full measure of devotion to defend.

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Eighty years since the D-Day landings — as we remember the courage and sacrifice that liberty demands — America again finds itself at a crossroads, with democracy on the line. 

On Thursday, when President Biden takes to the windswept cliffs of Pointe du Hoc, it will provide a fitting symmetry to Reagan’s pilgrimage 40 years ago: showing the world America’s renewed commitment to defending democracy. It’s a cause that American heroes have bled and died for, that presidents from both parties have championed, that Joe Biden believes is etched into the very soul of our nation.

Republican Chuck Hagel is a former secretary of the Defense Department and former U.S. senator from Nebraska.

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