I wrote this Independence Day message on June 9, two days after visiting Pointe du Hoc, Omaha Beach, and the American Cemetery and Memorial in France. I have had it in the "pending" file since then.
My visit to Normandy occurred one day after the 75th anniversary of Operation Overlord, the D-Day invasion of Allied Forces that began the effort to finally defeat the Nazi regime in France.
Pointe du Hoc is where, on D-Day, American soldiers used rope ladders to scale 100-foot cliffs to disarm suspected German artillery that would have fired on the soldiers landing on Omaha Beach. On Omaha Beach alone, U.S. forces suffered around 2000 casualties. The American Cemetery is the final resting place of more than 9200 American soldiers, including 45 pairs of brothers.
Had Operation Overload not been successful – and if America had not led the allies in going on to defeat Germany – America almost certainly would be a far different place than it is today. It is highly unlikely that we would be celebrating "Independence Day" and recalling the words of the Declaration of Independence in the same way we do today.
As I was walking on the now-pristine sands of Omaha Beach and then among the endless rows of simple white marble crosses and Stars of David at the America cemetery, I couldn't help but recall the words of those who, either without understanding or lacking seriousness of purpose, wonder aloud about America's greatness.
There are too many naysayers, of course.
But take these two examples. In March 2019, former Attorney General Eric Holder asked: "Exactly when did you think America was great?" New York Governor Andrew Cuomo suggested in August 2018 that America "was never that great."
They should be ashamed. They should know better.
Do Eric Holder and Andrew Cuomo not think America was great on June 6, 1944, and in the succeeding days when it led the Allies in launching the most successful land invasion in history? If not, it is a travesty to all those young men who gave their lives on the Normandy beaches in the cause of defeating Nazism.
America was great then. And on countless occasions before and after.
To be sure, America has not always lived up to its ideals – the Declaration's self-evident truth that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness." Slavery and Jim Crow will forever be deep-seated moral stains in the fabric of the American story. They are examples – and there are others too – of America falling short of its aspirations.
But falling short of the Declaration's aspirations is not the same as forever forfeiting the claim to America's greatness.
If you doubt, I urge you, on the miles of narrow roads approaching the Normandy beaches, to witness the hundreds of American flags draped from the homes along the way. And the hundreds of posters with the faces of American heroes hanging from every pole.
So, I maintain that, on the whole, those brave American soldiers that spilled out of the landing crafts onto Omaha Beach in 1944 – including those resting forever under the white marble stones – believed they were fighting to preserve individual freedom and America's independence.
If Eric Holder, Andrew Cuomo, or anyone else ever asks you: "Exactly when did you think America was great?" just say, please go to Pointe du Hoc, Omaha Beach, and the American Cemetery and Memorial.