Words and Images from Ed Felker

The Longest Day

I don’t have the words. Hell, maybe there are no words strong enough, respectful enough for this. But more likely, the right words have been cheapened over time, overused. Heroes don’t play football. Well, a few did. Saving the World is such an over the top concept it sounds like a video game tagline. The world sometimes seems like an awful place filled with pockets of evil always ready to flare up and get out of control. Yet it never quite does. People of my generation, of all generations since the Greatest one, go to bed at night perhaps worried about the world at large, but the sun always comes up the next morning. Families are still there. Neighbors and friends are still there. I don’t think we can truly imagine what it was like in the months leading up to June 6, 1944. I won’t speak for everyone, of course, but I can tell you that I can’t imagine, and I really try. I can’t imagine being called upon to do even the smallest fraction of what so many in this country did in the war effort. Entire industries put completely on hold, converted to factories to build planes, munitions, vehicles, to sew parachutes, to package meals, countless — truly countless — sacrifices before we even get to the biggest sacrifice of all.

Pearl Harbor lit a fire, yes. But it’s one thing to be for something, or against something. When you are called to act in the face of massive, well-equipped and well-trained evil, how do you summon the courage? I have no earthly idea. But they did. In massive numbers, young men from the United States, Great Britain and Canada summoned more courage than they even knew existed. They stormed the beaches of Normandy seventy years ago today, and many were dead before they even felt sand under foot. Many more fell dead in that sand. But enough survived to fight and crawl and run and scrape and dive and duck and make it. In ten minutes they had witnessed more hell than any man should be forced to bear, but they had work to do. So they kept coming, each landing made easier by the sacrifices of those who landed before. And they took that beach, and then they took the land behind that, and then the land behind that. And that’s how it started.

I shared recently how lucky I am to live in a place that gives me the opportunity to mark important National occasions. One of those places is the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. The Udvar-Hazy Center is the museum’s annex at Dulles Airport, and houses examples of some of the most important aircraft of World War II. They also are currently showing a fantastic film, D-Day: Normandy 1944. It is exceptionally well done, with incredible graphics blended with live action and tells the story of what happened on that day and how it unfolded in a way that’s compelling and easy to understand, but also very informative even for those who have read much on the subject. I learned quite a bit in this 43-minute long feature.

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So if you can get out this month to either the Dulles Air and Space Museum or the original one in Washington, DC, I highly recommend seeing this in the Imax format. It’s absolutely appropriate for kids. While I still don’t think it’s possible to wrap your brain around what that beach was like seventy years ago, it’s good to be reminded that real, regular people did astounding, brave things, and in doing so, secured a future so bright and prosperous that those who live in it — through no fault of their own — are incapable of comprehending what it took to get here. Then enjoy the proud history on display in the museum, it is a spacious, well-designed museum you could easily spend half a day in. Flight simulators are there to try (though I haven’t been in one yet), as well as neat kiosks throughout the space where you can see the view from the cockpit of most any plane there.

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I started my visit with the on screen telling of our bloody start to the war. And I ended it with the last thing I always stop and gaze upon when I’m here, the B-29 Superfortress that ended it.

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God bless the Greatest Generation, and those courageous, terrified young men that took that blood soaked beach, and made everything that followed, to this day, possible.

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