Given the success of such movies as Saving Private Ryan and the heart-rending HBO miniseries, Band of Brothers, I'm fairly confident that my fellow Generation Y-ers are at least aware that the 6th of June is as a significant a turning point in the history of the last 100 years as the fall of the Berlin Wall. Maybe you learned about it in history class, but it's more likely the images on the screen made more impact than any dry reading in any textbook.
If you are truly fortunate, you are related to, or at least have a family friend, who is a veteran of that conflict, and might have even stormed the beaches of northern France. Having walked those stone-littered beaches, so quiet after so many decades, you can't imagine, you can't really grasp what it was like, what it took to climb those cliffs that today have pedestrian-friendly stairs and walkways. Not until you reach the bluff overlooking Omaha Beach. Not until you see those white crosses and Stars of David, marble markers, rank upon rank, hundreds upon hundreds. It presses on you, hits you in the chest and you feel the weight of the presence of so many men who ran forward under fire to fight for their friends, for their country, and for their beliefs.
Sometimes I read essays or editorials cautioning us against romanticizing or glorifying war, that to even study, talk, or meditate upon it somehow makes it a good thing, justifies "mass murder." We are told we can only think of war as evil, as something wrong or unnatural. That angers me. I refuse to believe that what those men fought and died for was wrong. War is an ugly thing, yes, but not the ugliest of things, as John Stuart Mill observed - if we ever get so far as to say nothing is worth fighting for beyond the preservation of our own individual lives, then we don't deserve what those men died for.
Those men fought for hope. "In this darkest hour, in the gloom of night, we must not despair... deliverance is coming," says the village priest of Sainte-Mère-Église in the movie The Longest Day. The Allied soldiers who took the beaches didn't want to die, but they were willing to, for the hope that what they were doing was the right thing, that what they did would protect what they loved, would defeat an evil. And they did defeat Evil - no amount of academic dickering or sophistry is going to change that.
The human race does not change because of a war. People change, can make the choice to look back at what came before, and choose to take the good out of death and destruction. Only the individual can choose for themselves to believe that the 6th of June, 1944 was more than the guns, the beaches, the soldiers, and the blood, that those men died and passed on the responsibility to give meaning to their sacrifice.
Sometimes, it might be easier to escape that responsibility, passing it off as one war like any other, one mass slaughter like so many others, or to ignore it completely. I refuse to. I honor the memory of those men, what they fought for, what they sacrificed for.
I remember them.