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May 30, 2017

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The legacy of heroic D-Day veterans rests in our hands

Hundreds of World War II veterans in their late 80s and early 90s traveled to Omaha Beach, France on Friday to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day, often called the longest day in history. On June 6, 1944, after five years of war with Germany, an Allied force composed of 150,000 soldiers, 18,000 paratroopers, 11,000 planes, an armada of 4,400 watercraft and 1,500 tanks headed toward the beaches of Normandy and started an attack that lasted for 11 months and took them all the way to the German capital, Berlin.

"You are about to embark upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months," said Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, supreme commander of the Allied forces, before sending his troops into battle. "The eyes of the world are upon you," the future president continued. "The hopes of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. We will accept nothing less than full victory!"

Despite such victory, a major question remains 70 years later: for whom or what would you put your life on the line today? Contrary to all expectations, younger generations are showing the same kind of commitment toward their family and country as the young soldiers who reached Omaha Beach. In a recent survey, conducted by Swiss Public Radio RTS, Radio France and other media partners from around the world for the centennial of the outbreak of World War I, one in four Swiss would be willing to give their life for their country, a percentage a bit higher than in France, Germany or Belgium at 24.1 percent. The Poles emerged as most likely to defend their country, with most saying they would be willing to die for it.

Also, seven in 10 Swiss and French would be willing to give their lives for a particular cause, including "defending what's mine" and "following my ideals." Survey respondents, however, pointed to different values in each country in terms of what they should hold themselves to. In Switzerland, for instance, solidarity and education were most valued, while in France, ecology took the top spot, followed by solidarity and education. Meanwhile, Germans and Canadians chose completely different values, such as liberty, peace and justice. In Poland, family, patriotism and belief in God were most important. Twenty thousand respondents took part from countries around the world, including Switzerland, France, Poland, Belgium, Germany, Canada, Romania, Russia and Senegal. But, what does the survey show us?

It shows us that the spirit of courage and sacrifice of the men and women during World War II is being continued by a new generation, including soldiers who fought in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. It was on the shores of Normandy that the tide was turned in that common struggle for freedom and we should praise the veterans who took part in D-Day for changing the course of human history. To quote U.S. President Barack Obama during his speech on Friday, "It is important their story is seared into the memory of the future world." And he is right.

Friday's celebrations not only commemorated victory, but also the sacrifice and legacy of American, British and other allied soldiers who gave so much for the survival of liberty at a moment of maximum peril. Wherever you live, we should tell the story of those men and women and salute the memory of those who never made it home. We should keep on telling this story to bear what witness we can to what happened when the Allied forces eventually reached Omaha Beach and remember that the history of D-Day begins with the story of veterans whose legacy is in our hands.

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