Lessons from D-day

Published June 13, 2024

By Tom Campbell

Every morning when I rise, I see this miniature condiment jar on my dresser. It’s filled with sand from Omaha Beach in Normandy.
My “bucket list” trip was extremely emotional, especially viewing the large red, white and blue flag waving over the American cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach. 9,400 crosses symbolize young Americans memorialized there. After a brief ceremony our National Anthem played and many of us joined in singing along. But pride quickly turned to tears when the bugler played Taps.
On the 20th anniversary of D-day, CBS anchor Walter Cronkite toured Normandy with former President Dwight Eisenhower, who was then the Allied Supreme Commander. As the two rode a Jeep along the shoreline, visited Nazi artillery bunkers and viewed maps displaying the plan of attack for British, Canadian and American troops, you are struck by the magnitude of two years of meticulous strategizing. Even though the TV broadcast is in black and white and of generally poor quality, it was stirring. You can view Eisenhower’s emotional return to D-day beaches.
At the end of the roughly two-hour program Eisenhower offered some reflections. He told Cronkite that American forces “came to Normandy for one purpose only. Not to gain anything for themselves, not to fulfill any ambitions America had for conquest, but just to preserve freedom - systems of self-government in the world. Many thousands of men died for ideals such as these.”
He recounted that these, “young boys, were cut off in their prime.” Looking out over Omaha beach he mused, “I devoutly hope that we will never again have such scenes as these. I think and hope and pray that humanity has learned more. But these people gave us a chance, they bought time for us, so we could do better than we had before. So, every time I come back to these beaches, or any day when I think about that day twenty years ago, I say once more we must find some way to work for peace and to gain an eternal peace for this world.”
I was struck by the reality that these soldiers weren’t Republicans or Democrats. Not liberals or conservatives. Northerners or Southerners. They were Americans, willing to fight for our country. We were united. Rosie the riveter was created, and our part was to help the cause by accepting rations on gas, tires, nylons and other commodities.
Today, about the only thing we are united on is that the country is heading in the wrong direction, even though we might disagree how we got here. New York Times columnist Tom Friedman says we’ve lost our moorings as a society.
Friedman remembers a trip to the Atlantic Forest in Brazil, where guides pointed out thickets of trees that often live underwater along tropical coastlines. Those mangrove trees provide buffers to protect the forest from giant waves, hold the shoreline in place and are nurseries for young fish to mature.
Shame used to be a mangrove, Friedman stated. When someone falsified business records, committed moral infidelity or violated accepted societal norms they would hang their heads in shame and resign, or at least retreat from positions of responsibility. 
 “Our society itself has lost so many of its social, normative and political mangroves as well — all those things that used to filter toxic behaviors, buffer political extremism and nurture healthy communities and trusted institutions for young people to grow up in and which hold our society together,” lamented Friedman.
Over the past two or three decades the concept of shame has almost evaporated, along with other socially accepted norms like infidelity, business integrity, honest dealings, truth telling and civil behavior. The lack of them has just about become the norm.
I’m not sure whether we’ve become an amoral or morally corrupt society, but don’t you wonder why so many things we were raised to believe are not correct or not acceptable just seem to go by without protest or consequences? 
Either our morals have changed, or we have lost our voices. We have become so sheepish in standing up for what’s right, that we even tolerate some who label these crooks, liars, philanderers and thieves as heroes. But thousands have given their lives serving this nation to preserve those values.
Are we afraid that rising up will cost us something? Do we fear for our safety, friendships or jobs? Have we become a “go along to get along” nation? Or are we just waiting for somebody else to stand up and speak out, i.e. have we become cowards? 
Just days ago, we observed Memorial Day. On June 6th we remembered the 80th anniversary of D-day and soon we will be observing July 4th. They are reminders of who we were once upon a time. Hopefully, they will spur us to once again be people who stand for democracy, justice and for human rights.
What will become of us if we don’t?
Tom Campbell is a Hall of Fame North Carolina broadcaster and columnist who has covered North Carolina public policy issues since 1965.  Contact him at tomcamp@carolinabroadcasting.com