WASHINGTON, June 6 -
Growing up, I knew that my dad, as a teenager, fought in the Great “World War II.”
Because dad never spoke about it until recently, I was curious about what happened.
My fascination with World War II began when I saw the movie The Longest Day as a kid.
Young American men (still boys, really), who had never been far from home, were sent to a far away land to free a people they had never met.
They charged onto a beach through a hail of gunfire in order to stop the spreading threat of evil in Europe.
This action-packed movie depicts the graphic details of the longest day, June 6, 1944, D-Day.
Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., played by Henry Fonda, in the movie, was the son of President (and Colonel) Theodore Roosevelt, who led the charge up San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War.
Teddy Jr. fought in World War I with his brothers.
His brother Quentin, a fighter pilot, was killed in action.
General Roosevelt was crippled from the wounds of World War I, and had a heart condition. But he was not finished fighting.
At the age of 56, General Roosevelt was the highest ranking officer that landed on the shores of Normandy.
He was determined to lead the new generation of warriors—who became the Greatest Generation—as they took on the Nazis.
His son, Quentin Roosevelt II (named after Teddy Jr.’s late brother, the fighter pilot) was also on the beaches of Normandy that day.
They were the only father and son duo known to fight on D-Day.
Roosevelt and his boys were part of "Operation Overlord”.
The greatest invasion in history was expected to come at a high cost.
And, it did.
American youth gave their lives that day for the future of others.
Armed with only a walking stick and a pistol, and under constant enemy fire, Roosevelt led several groups of twenty-somethings up Utah beach and inland.
General Omar Bradley described Roosevelt’s actions as the “single greatest act of courage” he witnessed in the entire war.
On D-Day, thousands of American boys charged out of the sea onto French soil, beginning the liberation of Western Europe.
Our boys laid claim to the beachheads inch by bloody inch.
The unbelievable Rangers climbed the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc under heavy, brutal German fire.
They had to.
Americans did not go to Normandy to conquer.
They went and they sacrificed to ensure that Hitler would no longer be a threat. Hitler had little regard for American GIs.
He was certain that the “soft” sons of America could never become soldiers.
He thought the Nazi youth would outfight the Boy Scouts.
He was wrong. The Boy Scouts took them on D-Day.
The sand was stained red with the blood of young American warriors and that of our allies.
In all, 9,387 GIs lie in rest in the U.S. cemetery at Normandy.
Buried on the cliffs, their white crosses and their Stars of David shine and glisten in the morning sunshine over the now peaceful Omaha and Utah Beaches.
One of the buried is the tallest warrior of the longest day, Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.
Fittingly, he is buried next to his brother Quentin. Quentin is the only World War I veteran buried there.
General Roosevelt, who died of a heart attack shortly after the Normandy invasion, later received the Medal of Honor for his heroics at Normandy.
Today we express our gratitude to the Greatest Generation of Americans who defied danger and fearlessly fought for freedom.
Where does America find such warriors?
They were the young breed, the rare breed, the American breed who took to the treacherous beaches of Normandy under the leadership of a remarkable man who stood tall to lead his troops into battle on the longest day: Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. – The Tallest Warrior.
And that’s just the way it is.