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D-Day Plus 70 Years - The Burden of Sacrifice

06/06/2014 08:39 BST | Updated 05/08/2014 10:59 BST

As we commemorate the 70th anniversary of the D-Day Invasion and the beginning of the liberation of Europe from fascism on June 6, 2014, it is important to reflect on how this day changed history and what it means for us today.

For those unlike myself whose connection to this moment in time is a bit more removed, allow me to re-cap.

The invasion itself was the most remarkable military achievement of all time.

"Operation Overlord" was a massive invasion by sea and air across the English Channel onto five separate Normandy beaches - Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword - supported simultaneously by combined air cover and airborne forces landing behind enemy lines in costal France.

This operation included an invasion force of 7,000 ships and landing craft manned by 195,000 naval personnel from eight allied countries.

This enterprise was lead by Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces General Dwight David Eisenhower.

D-Day and its enormously successful outcome is a living example of what leadership, courage and commitment to a common purpose can achieve.

It was a daring and perilous undertaking.

Its ultimate success was based in part on a master feat of deception designed to confuse and distract Nazi command both along the coast in France and in Berlin.

While the real invasion was being secretly planned, a fake invasion force was assembled on the southeast coast of England to baffle the enemy.

General George S. Patton was given command of the First Army Group which was in fact a fictitious army designed to deceive Hitler and his generals.

This costal encampment in England was in place to convince the Germans that the invasion would take place at Calais just across the Channel.

This elaborate disinformation campaign included "dummy" tanks, artillery pieces, trucks and ships.

Pretend radio transmissions were also broadcast just as if an invasion force were preparing for battle.

In fact, this subterfuge was so successful that Hitler refused to reposition his troops to the actual planned invasion beaches in Normandy despite reports from his generals that the invasion was underway.

The events of this day were nothing short of spectacular in every aspect from its grand scale to all of the other elements that made it a success.

However, it was so risky that General Eisenhower prepared a note accepting full responsibility in case it was not a success - a sign of true leadership, the likes of which might not be seen today!

To our latest generation, if they are lucky, the D-Day invasion is something they read about in history books.

For their parents and grandparents - who were part of the "Greatest Generation" - this invasion was real, up close and very personal.

There were 16million veterans from WWII, about one million survive today.

What this meant is that every family in America, Great Britain and the Allied Nations as well, was part of this war effort and had one or more family members serving in the armed forces.

This amazing feat was accomplished with an American and Allied military that was not only lead by some of our greatest generals and admirals but it was also made up of average Americans from every walk of life - doctors, lawyers, accountants, engineers, teachers, shopkeepers, farmers, laborers all joined together.

There was a draft but young men and women volunteered and some even lied about their age to enlist.

We were bound together with one common goal.

Make no mistake, this was a large part of the reason the Allies were successful at overcoming the formidable strength of the Axis powers - Germany, Italy and Japan.

The enemy experienced first hand the courage and the valor of the "citizen solider" fighting for freedom for his fellow man and women.

Not since this time, 70 years ago this week, has any military challenge been so clear.

Today we have an "all volunteer force" and as a result a small percentage of the American public volunteers to serve and defend all we hold dear.

These brave individuals and their families are the only ones who bear all the sacrifices of service while others continue to live their lives as if no dangers or conflicts exist in the world around them.

The professional service member has taken on all the burdens of our liberties and freedoms with little or no support or investment from the rest of us.

Perhaps we owe it to those who stormed the beaches of Normandy and now lie buired in the cemetery there at St. Laurent and elsewhere throughout Europe and America, to ask ourselves what lessons have our leaders learned from their sacrifice.

Going to war should never be an easy choice.

Perhaps it is now too easy for the Commander-in-Chief and Congress to send our professional military into harms way since it no longer requires a sacrifice from us all.

Today as we come to an end of our longest commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq, 7,029 American have been killed and 50,640 have been wounded.

These brave young men and women were all volunteers for a mission that the average man and woman on the street still can not explain.

In election years candidates pledge their full support to our troops and our veterans, yet when it really matters their commitment is just not there.

With the on-going crisis faced by our returning veterans we must ask ourselves if we are really willing to pay for all the costs of war.

For decades both Republicans and Democrats have failed to fully fund the Department of Veterans Affairs to pay the debt we owe to those willing to serve to protect our democratic way of life.

This week's Sargent Bowe Bergdahl's story raises many issues that we can debate but one of them is easy for any military family to understand.

If their son or daughter were held alive by the enemy no price would be too high to pay for their safe return.

So before we send the next greatest generation off to war again, the Commander-in-Chief and Congress not only need to have a clear mission, they need to find a way for the entire country to be united with them in a common purpose in support of that mission.

We also must be willing to pay for all the costs of war and be certain the world will be a better and safer place when the job is done.

For the men and woman who answered the call on D-Day the answer was clear.