It is sadly difficult for many Americans today – especially, but not exclusively, young people – to realize what it cost other people to secure for them the freedom to spend a free Monday in May sleeping in, going boating, cooking hamburgers, and watching ballgames.
Often, I find that when I mention words like “Normandy,” all I get in response are vague nods or blank-eyed stares. People know there was such a thing as D-Day, and that maybe it was rough for somebody … and might even have had something to do with that fuzzy, far-off history thing called World War II. But it’s very hard for very many to imagine what a handful of men their age saw as dawn broke over the northwest coast of France one summer day 70 years ago.
In fact, what those young men saw was unimaginable to them, too – and yet they had no choice but to step off into the ferocious, horrific surreality of a world exploding around them. Many of them staggered off heaving landing craft into eight-foot, turbulent seas, and did their best to swim with the 80-pounds of equipment on their back, as machine gun bullets churned the waters and men around them. Those who made shore had to carry that equipment – and often a bleeding friend – over trenches and around the various obstacles Nazi soldiers had implanted on the beach … obstacles that made it exceedingly hard to outrun machine guns and sniper fire.
Beyond the other obstacles lay the walls to be climbed over, the mine fields to be crossed … and the 100-foot cliffs to be scaled. And all the while, the bullets searing past, the grenades exploding, the other men screaming and bleeding and dying all around them.
It was, as an old movie title suggests, the longest day those on that beach ever lived through – if, indeed, they lived. Today, seven decades later, the increasingly few of their number still left are old, old men, creased and gray and often reluctant to recite more than the barest outline of what they saw and felt on those bloody cliffs and beaches. In their eyes, sometimes, you can see it: the brutal knowledge that wars aren’t won in broad strokes or quick scrimmages.
Wars are won in long, long minutes … by those who somehow endure a few seconds longer. They’re won not in miles, but inches and feet at a time. They’re won, often, by armies full of tired, lonely individuals who keep their wits and courage and faith even as it seems like the whole world is falling away or caving in upon them.
Like many of you, I have never been in a military battle. But for more than 20 years, you and I and our Alliance have been facing the unrelenting attacks of a tireless legal and political army determined to undermine our most precious freedoms – particularly religious liberty. We have learned in our own crucibles what those young men of those long ago battlefields so painfully discovered – that freedom isn’t won in a day, or defended with minimal effort.
The victories God has given us in the courts of this country – and He has given us many – have rarely come in sweeping decisions, or major legislative coups. Sometimes, it feels like we’ve finally swept our opponents from their beach entrenchments … only to find ourselves looking up at a legal cliff seemingly impossible to climb.
Like those men at Normandy, we climb anyway – strengthened by the grace and mercies of our loving Father, and inspired by the example of countless clients whose courage astounds us (and whom you enable us to represent, often “against all odds"). Elaine Huguenin. Dr. Ken Howell. Cathy DeCarlo. The people of the Bronx Household of Faith.
As different as our battles are, the soldiers of D-Day remind us that long odds can be conquered. Entrenched opposition can be driven back. And some victories are worth the great price.
As we come to the anniversary of the battle that turned the tide in the most epic struggle of the 20th century, I hope you and your family will join me in giving thanks for the extraordinary men who deliberately stepped out into that hurricane of violence 70 years ago. Pray, too, that our Lord might give us a special portion of their courage, as we continue in the ongoing fight to preserve religious freedom.
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