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They’ve been called the Greatest Generation, their greatness forged in the crucible of battle.

They were the soaked, shivering GIs who clambered up the cliffs overlooking “bloody Omaha Beach” on D-Day. They were also fighter pilots like Butch O’Hare who, as the only American left in the skies, fought off an entire wave of Japanese bombers intent on sinking the USS Lexington and its 3,000-man crew. They were the Marines at Iwo Jima, the bomber crews surrounded by flak, brave men in tin cans (submarines) — warriors all, fighting for their lives and liberty in a thousand miserable places around the globe.

Yet, in truth, every generation is the greatest generation.

Every generation of Americans has answered the call to fight for their country. All went into battle with hopes and dreams, and most found they needed to overcome more than just the enemy.

Sometimes they went in ill-equipped and ill-armed, like the troops of Task Force Smith during the Korean War. Sometimes those who went “over the top” were treated as second-class citizens and second-class soldiers, segregated from white units. Still, they went.

They went because they were Americans, and because they loved this country. They realized that, for all its flaws and shortcomings, it was still the greatest nation in the world—a nation that offered the opportunity to do great things for themselves, their loved ones and countless others at home and abroad.

While every generation is great, there is something very special about those of the D-Day generation. To understand why, all one needs to do is read what Tojo, Hitler and Mussolini had planned for the world after war. It is not a world where anyone who loves freedom would want to live.

Allied victory wouldn’t have been possible without the second front in Europe, and the second front would have been impossible without D-Day. It was as transformative a battle as Gettysburg, the Civil War battle that saved the republic.

That’s why it’s not surprising to see the world’s leaders assemble in Normandy to recognize the 75th anniversary of the invasion.

What’s the big takeaway for us? It reminds of the great, powerful, historic and important things we can do as Americans. It’s so easy to be consumed by our day-to-day struggles to get by or get ahead — or to be distracted by the incessant partisan squabbling and bitterness in Washington,

D-Day is a perfect opportunity to rise above that and take stock of our deeper selves — as a people. There is a reason for America, and the ideals that led to the founding of our nation are why the very idea of America is worth the fight.

A Heritage Foundation vice president, James Jay Carafano directs the think tank's research on matters of national security and foreign relations.

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