Here in this little French village of Sainte Mere Eglise they remember D-Day.
Sainte Mere Eglise, as students of history and World War II movies know, became the first town to be liberated from Hitler’s armies when hundreds of American paratroopers fell from the sky early on the morning of June 6, 1944.
The people of Sainte Mere Eglise have never forgotten the men of the 101st Airborne and 82nd Airborne divisions who were killed or wounded during an operation designed to prevent the Germans from using a road to counterattack the amphibious landings at Utah and Omaha beaches.
They’ve renamed village streets for Dwight Eisenhower and other American generals and they have hung a white parachute and a dummy of a paratrooper from the spire of the village church to commemorate the story of John Steele.
Steele was the U.S. 82nd Airborne private - played by Red Buttons in “The Longest Day” -- whose chute got hung up on the church roof and survived being shot by the German soldiers below only by playing dead for two hours.
My wife Colleen and I are in Normandy with my Reagan Legacy Foundation, which raised money to help send 14 veterans of D-Day back to France to celebrate an important day in history that too few Americans under 60 know anything about.
We’ll walk on Omaha and Utah beaches. We’ll visit the American cemetery at Colleville. And on Friday morning, the 6th of June, we’ll be at Sword Beach for the official international ceremony co-chaired by President Obama and French President Hollande.
For understandable reasons, D-Day is a huge deal here. The people of Sainte Mere Eglise have already been marking the 70th anniversary for a week with parades, dedications, reenactments, speeches, walking tours, music performances and a 250-man parachute drop.
To the 1,500 people of this town and throughout this part of France, June 6 is like a hundred of our Memorial Days rolled into one.
It makes me sad that D-Day means so much to the French but almost nothing to most Americans, particularly those under 60.
I’ve made a habit for years of asking young people I meet if they know what D-Day is or was.
Most have no clue what I’m talking about. And I’m afraid the few who do know something about the brave and tragic things that happened at Normandy only know it because they’ve seen “Saving Private Ryan.”
When I tell young people D-Day was the day their grandfather’s generation landed on the beaches of France, kicked the German war machine’s butt and began the liberation of Nazi Europe, many of them are amazed.
“Really?” they say. Their teachers have clearly never gotten around to telling them what was so important about D-Day -- or much else about World War II and the sacrifices our soldiers and sailors made.
Tom Brokaw has said he’s shocked by how so many young people are oblivious about our history. They’re especially uninformed when it comes to what the “Greatest Generation” did to preserve our freedom and the freedom of millions around the world.
Fewer and fewer members of that great WWII generation are left. The American teenagers who came ashore at Normandy and fought their way to Germany are pushing 90.
In 2024 we’ll be lucky to have a platoon of them to help us mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day, a day we need to give more respect to and can never afford to forget.
Michael Reagan is the son of President Ronald Reagan, a political consultant, and the author of “The New Reagan Revolution” (St. Martin’s Press). He is the founder of the email service reagan.com and president of The Reagan Legacy Foundation. Visit his websites at www.reagan.com and www.michaelereagan.com. Send comments to Reagan@caglecartoons.com. Follow @reaganworld on Twitter.