“The memory of the righteous will be a blessing, but the name of the wicked will rot.” Proverbs 10:7
“I thank my God every time I remember you.” Philippians 1:3
What an emotional sight for me and my wife, less than two years ago, to stand above and on the same beaches where the greatest invasion in history took place in Normandy, France. I have read many excellent histories of D-Day over the years and looked at countless pictures taken on that crucial day; but they do not suffice for the actual experience of seeing this historic ground with our own eyes; especially when you know so well what took place here on June 6th 71 years ago. Many emotions filled my heart during these few days, but easily the strongest was thankfulness. Over five thousand men lost their lives on that bloody day, bravely carving out a small foothold on the continent of Nazi-controlled Europe; the beginning of the end for a diabolical regime. Walking through the American Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach where most of the 5,000 were killed, over 3,000 Americans alone on and around Omaha Beach, on what has been called “the longest day,” our hearts were filled with thankfulness for these fellow soldiers who gave the supreme sacrifice for freedom; the freedom you and I have enjoyed for a life time. This freedom is taken for granted by younger generations who know little if anything of that sacrifice. These soldiers, sailors, airmen died in their youth that those who came after could live a full life free from oppression.
Too many from younger generations tend to think freedom grows on trees; it is something you enjoy because it is a deserved right. You do not need to pay a cost or work or be thankful for it; it is just the way things are; nothing required from you. Such thinking is not only the view of those who believe freedom is a personal right, but of those who in many cases do not have the character to hold on to it. A thankful person with the humility to recognize the heavy cost of freedom and never forget is one who is vigilant in keeping it. When no longer appreciated as a gift to protect, or for which to be grateful, freedom is squandered and will be eventually lost. What we now have was paid for with the volunteered sacrifice of others’ lives.
One of the greatest marks of genuine character is being continuously grateful, recognizing and appreciating the service of others on your behalf. No man is an island; he lives and prospers on the backs of many others, but especially on the goodness of God. To not see this is a glaring blind spot which will prove to be the undoing of the unthankful. To reverse course in a life, where good purposes and thoughtful mission is sorely lacking, a good place to jumpstart transformation is in beginning to practice thanksgiving in every circumstance. Sounds crazy because many circumstances are anything but good. Why give thanks for losing a job or breaking a leg? Was God crazy to tell you to be thankful in all things and at all times? God knows what He’s about, He knows you, and He knows the human creature He made. He knows what a thankful spirit does for a human being’s psyche and character. He knows a consistently thankful spirit is a spirit which thrives. Thankfulness works wonders in any life and produces joy where there once was no joy.
High on the cliffs at the west end of Omaha Beach stands a monument overlooking the ocean expanse of the English Channel which in this invasion carried the largest armada of boats and ships ever assembled in history. Called Pointe-du-Hoc, it is a promontory of land and high cliffs jutting out toward the ocean, providing unobstructed views of the two American invasion beaches, Omaha and Utah. This monument honors and memorializes intrepid American Army Rangers who on D-Day scaled those perpendicular cliffs under withering machine gun fire, the enemy gunners protected by concrete and steel bunkers still there today. As one after another brave Ranger was killed or wounded, another took his place and kept climbing until they reached the top and destroyed the German 155mm guns; big guns which, in that dominant defilade position, wreaked death and destruction on the soldiers, tanks, and landing craft below on Omaha Beach to the east and Utah to the west. 225 Rangers began the rope climbing assault into the face of enemy bullets and grenades from above; only 90 survived.
I stood at the base of that memorial on the edge of this steep, rugged cliff for a long time, looking down the craggy face and out to the ocean, emotionally contemplating with tears the courage of these fellow soldiers in achieving such an impossible, but absolutely necessary mission. The victory of D-Day rested greatly on their success, as well as the saving of thousands of lives. This memorial on now famous Pointe-du-Hoc reminded me of the stone “Ebenezer” placed and named by Samuel in 1 Samuel 7:12, the purpose of which was to stir remembrance of God as our ever present help. I was similarly reminded of the memorial of 12 stacked stones, taken from the middle of the Jordan River, representing all 12 tribes of Israel, heaped by Joshua’s command as a memorial to the power of God in bringing His children Israel through a parted Jordan River into the Promised Land. I understand that in King Solomon’s day he placed tall round pillars on each shore of the Gulf of Aqaba memorializing where the Israelites crossed the parted Red Sea to escape Pharaoh’s army in the Exodus. Read Hebrews 11, a memorial to the heroes whom we build upon today in our own lives of faith in the face of the enemy. These memorials have a purpose of inspiring thanksgiving and keeping the reasons for being thankful before the generations who follow. When those generations forget, and cease being thankful, they lose the benefits won for them by those who went before. It happened consistently to the Old Testament nation of Israel. It is still happening today.
This Memorial Day, we as a nation rest from our work, not just for family picnics, but to remember why it is we can even enjoy a family picnic; free and blessed. Memorialize those who went before you with an attitude of expressed, thoughtful thanksgiving to God for their sacrifice on your behalf. Take time to bring together those in your gathering next Monday, family, friends, neighbors, and lead them in a prayer to the Lord, grateful for what is yours today, because so many gave the last full measure of devotion.
“O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife, who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life! America! America! May God thy gold refine, till all success be nobleness, and every gain divine.”
(2nd verse of Katharine Lee Bates’ “America the Beautiful”, 1893)
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