To discuss the importance of the anniversary, April Cheek-Messier, president of the National D-Day Memorial Foundation, sat down with Fox News to talk about D-Day and the lessons the events of June 6, 1944, can teach all Americans.
“This memorial pays tribute to all of our, truly our D-Day veterans, our World War II veterans, to any veteran, I think, who served our country, this memorial is a powerful reminder of service and sacrifice,” said Cheek-Messier, who counts several family members among those who served during World War II. “But what’s really important is that we pass on those lessons to the next generation. That’s really what our veterans want to make sure is happening.”
The National D-Day Memorial, which opened in 2001 and was dedicated by President George W. Bush that same year, has never received any federal or state funding. Instead, Cheek-Messier says, the memorial was the result of a grassroots effort led by those who were there on June 6 to honor their fallen comrades.
“[The memorial] truly was a grassroots effort among veterans to start a national monument to recognize those who served, and those who sacrificed on June 6, 1944,” Cheek-Messier said.
Nearly eight decades after the battle, Cheek-Messier says it’s hard to know how many D-Day veterans remain but they likely only numbers in the hundreds.
“If you think about the fact that there are 16 million who served during World War II, there are only around 325,000 World War II veterans still living today, and of that a very small percentage would be D-Day veterans, and we don’t know the exact number, but you can imagine they would probably only be in a few hundred,” said Cheek-Messier.
Cheek-Messier says the COVID pandemic has hit the D-Day veteran community especially hard.
“It’s been pretty devastating,” she said. “We lost many of them. Many out of just, I think, not being able to see their loved ones and things like that. COVID certainly had an impact in many ways.”
Despite the pain brought on by the COVID pandemic over the last year, and the deep cultural and political divisions among many Americans today, Cheek-Messier believes that D-Day and the memorial can again show Americans what the country can be when it unites.
“I think when people walk around the memorial you get a real sense of that, it’s a good feeling. It’s a good feeling of what we can do as a nation, what we can do as a people when we come together,” said Cheek-Messier.
Unlike during World War II, when nearly everyone knew someone serving the American cause, Cheek-Messier says many aren’t aware of the sacrifices made by veterans and their families. “We’ve kind of lost touch a little bit, I think, with our military and the sacrifices that not only our military men and women make, but their families.”
Cheek-Messier noted that Americans should never forget that the freedoms enjoyed by all citizens today came at the expense of those who served before them, including the thousands who perished 77 years ago defending American ideals along the French shoreline.
“We are here and free today to say the things we want and do the things we want because so many have given the ultimate sacrifice, and I don’t think that we should ever forget that.”