On the evening of June 5, 1944 (which was near moonless, unlike June 5, 2012), some 24,000 airborne troops from several nations and almost infinitely diverse backgrounds boarded aircraft for the flight across the English Channel, where they would either parachute or glide into enemy territory...the first wave of the Allied invasion of France. The survivors I've heard interviewed and read about didn't consider themselves particularly brave or heroic...they were doing what they had been trained to do, doing what they were told, and mostly believed, had to be done. We think of them after the fact as extraordinarily courageous, for they did things that to us seem so very extraordinary. Many of them lost their lives that night, while many others fought with such skill and ferocity that they became legends in their own time. Indeed, they became heroes. We hear the word "hero" a lot today. Politicians have made it yet another test of "patriotism"...refer to members of our military as anything other than heroes, and you lose votes. I suspect all this makes many of our service men and women a bit uncomfortable, though I am sure they appreciate the support. Actually, they deserve even more recognition and support than they get...they surely deserve more than hollow political rhetoric. I have the utmost respect for them, but that is not what I want to say to you today.
Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower speaks to the 101st Airborne, June 5, 1944
What I wish to say is this: heroism is an everyday act. It does not require a war to be demonstrated. So many of you lead heroic lives. You face the unthinkable, and you move through it. I am surrounded by heroes, though, like those veterans of the airborne units, most of them would say they are not particularly heroic. But they were, and you are. I have dear friends, far and near, facing impossible situations...some of which are sadly familiar for The Bug and me, some of which are completely foreign to our experience. To them, I send my love, along with what grace and strength and light I can share. I hold them in my heart, and pray they find peace in their situations. How much courage does it take to step through any given door, whether it be a step into the night over enemy territory, a step into a doctor's office to hear dreaded news, a step into a hospital room, possibly to see a loved one for the last time, a step in a direction that one did not expect to be taking at such a time in life? I have so many friends who have stepped or are, or soon will be, stepping through such doors. For most of them, that step is an act of faith, even a leap into the unknown, but they do not consider it heroic. I beg to differ.