DRAPER HEADQUARTERS, Utah –
Soldiers, Airmen and families of the Utah National Guard. This June, we celebrate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, arguably the most important military campaign in the 20th Century. Perhaps no battle has been more widely studied, but the tactics, the operations, and the strategy pale when compared to the individual human beings associated with that immortal struggle of good versus evil. The lines were pretty clear: freedom and liberty or oppression and tyranny.
At times like this, it is important to remind ourselves that personal character matters. Personal character, and a strong will to survive is what drove the paratroopers of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions to persevere behind enemy lines against incredible odds. Despite darkness, destruction and total chaos, American Soldiers banded together two-by-two and began carrying out pre-planned combat operations. They executed mission command with limited radio contact. There are amazing stories of personal heroism, but what is most evident is the initiative taken by small teams to neutralize the enemy and accomplish their mission. While hiding in the Village of Ste.-Mere-Eglise, a French civilian wrote this in his diary:
“It is real hell all over with the firing of machine guns and artillery. Around 3:00 a.m. we risked a peek to see what is going on. The Americans are the only ones in the streets of the town, there are no more Germans. It is an indescribable joy. I was never as happy in all my life.”
This heroism came at a heavy cost. While storming Omaha beach, the 200 Soldiers of A Company, 116th Infantry Regiment, were decimated. Within 90 seconds, the unit was combat ineffective. Only 20 men survived the landings and fought past the beach.
Today we face different challenges. We face committed enemies focused on diminishing our nation. They seek to remove us from our position of world leadership. Their weapons are more subtle, using widely repeated narratives of America’s failings to advance their own agendas. They will avoid direct conflict through the use of proxies and nefarious activities done under the smoky cover of plausible deniability. But these enemies are just as insidious as the fascists of the past, and possibly even more dangerous. They represent totalitarianism, lost liberty and oppression. As we face a future filled with great power competition, let us remember that the United States, in the words of John Winthrop, is still that “shining city on a hill.” People still die to come here every day because they recognize that, even if some of our own citizens do not. Be standard-bearers in your community to defend this great republic. Continue to prepare yourselves to stand up and do whatever it takes to defend this nation and our way of life. And remember we “stand on the shoulders of giants.” Those who went before us saw their duty and performed it against tremendous odds. We must do no less. Eons ago, at a time of great danger, these words were spoken by a soldier of the Roman Republic, and I think they are suitable for our time:
“Then out spoke brave Horatius the Captain of the Gate. To every man upon this earth, Death cometh soon or late, And how can a man die better, than facing fearful odds. For the ashes of his Fathers, and the temples of his Gods.”
I have the very deepest admiration for the Soldiers and Airmen of the Utah National Guard. May God bless each one of you and your great families.