Are You an American? You Are Different.

On this day back in 1944, some young men rode boats 100 miles across the English Channel to take on an impossible task. It’s important that we never forget them, or why they had to assume that responsibility. Here is a link to a timeline of that day. I have walked the beaches in Normandy. I saw where they landed. I have listened to the stories. It is pretty amazing they pulled it off.

For the last six years, I have been on the board of the National World War Two Museum in New Orleans. This is a place that you need to make a special trip with your family to see. The museum isn’t just their story. It’s our story. Their stories are really relevant to what is happening today. Your view on the world will change after a visit the museum. Virtually everyone I talk to says that.

The museum has a full schedule of events today that you can livestream.

Too often in today’s debate, we call people a Nazi, or a racist, or a bigot. They are words used to shock, and put punctuation or effect on a sentence. They are words used to arouse anger, or other emotions.

I think it’s important to remember what a Nazi really was. They were socialists. They were about using government power and crony capitalism to control people. They used fear. They were violent and strategically used violence. They were filled with contempt and thought they were above everyone else. They tortured and isolated one group of people for blame-and in an organized and systematic way, murdered them. They recorded it all as if they were running a simple factory.

In the early morning of Jun 6, a bunch of paratroopers jumped into enemy territory facing certain danger and probably death. Here is a link to one of the paratrooper stories. When I look at the C-47 transport plane in the National World War Two Museum that dropped them off, I wonder if I would have had the guts to get in that plane, let alone jump out of it.

Prior to the bulk of the paratroopers jumping, the US sent Pathfinders. They jumped and set up scopes on the ground showing the pilots where the jump zones would be. Can you imagine being first? Here is the story of a Pathfinder.

I also couldn’t imagine taking a trip on a ship over rough seas, climbing down a rope net into a Higgins boat flopping around in waves like a cork. I get seasick just thinking about it. After climbing down, getting chauffeured to the beach with the world’s largest fireworks show going on all around me. Except, instead of delighting me, everyone was trying to kill me.

My friend Walt Ehlers experienced that. I have heard his story many times. You can hear it too, right here at this link. Walt’s story is important to Americans. Why? He was a Kansas farm kid. He and his brother volunteered before December 7, 1941. He did extraordinary things, but he never considered himself to be extraordinary. Of course, he was. When I would talk to him about Omaha Beach, he would always stress that the ones that didn’t come back were really the extraordinary ones. He knew first hand since his brother was killed right up the beach from where Walt landed.

One time when I heard Walt speak, someone asked him this question. “Mr. Ehlers, you were German-American, did it bother you to be killing Germans?”

Walt didn’t even skip a beat. He said, “No. I was an American. I was fighting for my country. It didn’t matter where anyone came from. We were Americans.”

Here’s the thing. While Walt’s experience is very unique his attitude isn’t. Ask any WW2 veteran. They were average American young men that often volunteered. They came from everywhere. They went all over the globe to places they didn’t even know existed and did extraordinary things to free people who were under assault, and violently oppressed. Then, most of them came home.

There are so many lessons to be taken from D-Day. One of them is to remember that when you come to this country, you become an American. We aren’t separate. You stand for something different. Too often, I hear people try to divide and subdivide us. “I live in a house built by slaves” is a good example. We might all be from somewhere else. We all had different paths to get here. It really doesn’t matter where we came from or how we got here. At our core, we are Americans and we are different than any other country on earth.

Never forget them, and never forget that America is a special place. It’s different. It’s why people want to come here.