Seventy-five years ago today, the men who would become our fathers and grandfathers purchased our freedom on the beaches of Normandy.

More than 160,000 men crossed the English Channel on D-Day. Before they cracked Hitler’s Atlantic Wall, victory over the Third Reich was anything but assured.

But it came at a great cost — more than 10,000 casualties and more than 4,400 dead.

Few ever find the words to convey such gallantry. Here are an exceptional few who did.

Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity. ...

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and good will among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home. ...

Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogancies. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace — a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

— President Franklin D. Roosevelt, June 6, 1944

These men came here to storm these beaches for one purpose only, not to gain anything for themselves; not to fulfill any ambitions that America had for conquest, but just to preserve freedom, systems of self-government in the world. Many thousands of men have died for ideals such as these. Here again, in the 20th century for the second time, Americans, along with the rest of the free world, but Americans had to come across the ocean to defend those same values. ...

Now my own son has been very fortunate. He has had a very full life since then. He is the father of four lovely children who are very precious to my wife and me. But these young boys, so many of them, over whose graves we have been treading, looking at, wondering, contemplating about their sacrifices; they were cut off in their prime.

They are gone. And they have families who grieve for them. But they never knew the great experiences of going through life like my son can enjoy.

I devoutly hope that we will never again have to see such scenes as these. I think and hope and pray that humanity will learn more than we had learned up to that time.

But these people gave us a chance. And they bought time for us, so that we can do better than we have before.

So every time I come back to these beaches, or any day when I think about that day 20 years ago now, I say once more we must find some way to work to peace, and really to gain an eternal peace for this world.

— Gen. and former President Dwight D. Eisenhower at the American military cemetery at Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, overlooking Omaha Beach in a broadcast with Walter Cronkite,

June 6, 1964.

We’re here to mark that day in history when the Allied armies joined in battle to reclaim this continent to liberty. For four long years, much of Europe had been under a terrible shadow. Free nations had fallen, Jews cried out in the camps, millions cried out for liberation. Europe was enslaved and the world prayed for its rescue. Here, in Normandy, the rescue began. Here, the Allies stood and fought against tyranny, in a giant undertaking unparalleled in human history. ...

Forty summers have passed since the battle that you fought here. You were young the day you took these cliffs. Some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet you risked everything here. Why? Why did you do it? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-­preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? We look at you, and somehow we know the answer.

It was faith and belief. It was loyalty and love. The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or on the next.

It was the deep knowledge ­­ and I pray God we have not lost it — that there is a profound moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest.

You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt. You all knew that some things are worth dying for.

One’s country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. ...

— President Ronald Reagan at Pointe du Hoc, Normandy,

June 6, 1984

When Hitler declared war on the United States, he was betting that German soldiers, raised up in the Hitler Youth, would always outfight American soldiers brought up in the Boy Scouts.

He lost that bet. The Boy Scouts had been taught how to figure their way out of their own problems. ...

In the German Army or the Red Army, the Russian Army or the Japanese Army, if a lieutenant got killed, the platoon was leaderless. Nobody stepped forward to take control, and the officer from the brigade had to come down and so on.

In the American Army, the sergeant would take over immediately. Or sometimes, it could be a private that was going to take over immediately. ...

And the Normandy invasion, initially the Germans pinned down all these people along Omaha Beach, and there was barbed wire and there were minefields, and then you had to go up a very steep bluff that had a lot of trenches in it.

It was a World War I kind of a setting. And there was no retreat. You couldn’t run. You couldn’t get out of there.

It was a private over here and a sergeant over here and a lieutenant over here and a corporal over there who said, “Screw this, man. If I’m going to get killed, I’m going up that hill and take some Germans with me. Come on, who’s coming with me?”

And they would just start off, and others would get in behind them, and up they would go, and they took the hill in that way. That would not have happened in other armies, but it happened in the American Army. ...

— Historian Stephen Ambrose, author of “Band of Brothers,” “D-Day, June 6, 1944,” and “Citizen Soldiers,” during an interview with David Gergen, July 30, 2002 — M.T.

Recommended for you