'Ike's Soldiers' — Remember D-Day, those who served, and why

'Ike's Soldiers' — Remember D-Day, those who served, and why
© Eisenhower Library archives

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.

“The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some 50 miles of concrete highway. … This, I repeat, is the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”

These words by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in his “Chance for Peace” speech delivered April 16, 1953, echo the unimaginable toll of World War II — so incredible that estimates of the official death toll vary greatly. Anywhere between 65 million and 110 million people died, soldiers, civilians, Holocaust victims. It was a war that encompassed nearly every nation in some capacity. Few were able to escape its catastrophic grasp. What we must remember is that World War II was absolutely a global war, and a global sacrifice.

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In September 1958, Eisenhower’s voice boomed over radios across the country: “I know something about that war and I never want to see that history repeated. But, my fellow Americans, it certainly can be repeated if the peace-loving democratic nations again fearfully practice a policy of standing idly by while big aggressors use armed force to conquer the small and weak.” A champion of peace, Eisenhower also was a defender of the democratic way of life. His approach was one of bringing people together on common ground to achieve a larger purpose.

Our responsibility, as the descendants of survivors and heroes, is to remember this sacrifice in order to protect peace. We must pass down the stories of the soldiers who witnessed the worst face of humanity as if our lives depend on it, because they do. We must collect, preserve, share  and listen to these stories, so that we may never find ourselves in a world as dark as that again.

June 6, 1944 — known as D-Day — signified the beginning of the end of the bloodiest war the world had ever experienced. Troops landed within 24 hours on five beaches code-named Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword, along France’s Normandy coast.

The Eisenhower Foundation was established as “The National Foundation to Honor General Dwight D. Eisenhower and the United States Armed Forces.” The original purpose was to recognize the military achievements of Eisenhower, supreme commander of the armed forces in Europe, and to honor living and deceased members of the U.S. armed forces, particularly the men and women who served in World War II.

On June 4, 1952, the cornerstone of the Eisenhower Foundation — and what became the Eisenhower Presidential Museum — was laid. At the ceremony, Eisenhower explained that the purpose of the memorial was “not only to all of the servicemen of World War II, on whatever front or in whatever station they served, or in what uniform, but to the purpose of developing the citizenship. A respect for all of the great rights and privileges of American citizenship.”

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Through the years, our name has changed and our mission has evolved, but we remain true to Gen. Eisenhower’s original intent. This year we commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day and the people who saw it through. The Eisenhower Foundation, in partnership with the Eisenhower Presidential Library, will mark this anniversary with a week of commemorative activities in Abilene, Kan., Eisenhower’s home and final resting place.

We are proud to honor more than 60 World War II veterans, Rosie the Riveters, and Holocaust survivors as guests of honor for this milestone, bringing history to life for the next generation in a way that may never happen again. The wartime courage and contributions of these individuals, along with countless others, helped the United States and our Allies defeat the Axis forces, putting an end to the deadliest conflict in history.

Anyone can join this movement of remembrance by participating in our new initiative, Ike’s Soldiers, created to support Eisenhower’s legacy of respect for the heroes of World War II. Through this program, people can join us in honoring those who fought by collecting the stories of living World War II veterans so that we never forget.

Meredith Sleichter is executive director of the nonprofit Eisenhower Foundation, formed in 1945 after the Allied victory in Europe to create a memorial to Gen. Eisenhower. Follow on Twitter @EisenhowerFound.