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Oregon communities are honoring veterans' sacrifices

It is difficult to believe it has been 70 years since what was perhaps the most important battle of World War II — the Allied invasion of the Normandy region of France on June 6, 1944.

For most of those who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, World War II was a central focal point of their lives. Its history was close and vitally important. They heard the stories and understood the magnitude of what the world had just gone through, a relative few years earlier.

So to come to this 70-year anniversary is odd. The history it represents seems at once very close, yet also very distant.

The Normandy Invasion — known as “Operation Overlord” — was one of the biggest battles of the war, and it was a massive undertaking. Approximately 160,000 American, British and Canadian soldiers landed on five beaches on a 50-mile stretch of the French coastline in the country’s Normandy region. On that one June day in 1944, about 4,500 Allied troops lost their lives on those beaches in France.

Gen. Dwight Eisenhower’s message to the troops before they left England for the battle was dramatic: “You are about to embark upon the great crusade toward which we have striven these many months,” Eisenhower said. “The eyes of the world are upon you.”

On June 6, 2014 — 70 years after the D-Day invasion — the state of Oregon unveiled its Oregon World War II memorial near the state Capitol building in Salem. On this momentous 70th anniversary date last Friday, several thousand people turned out on a sunny day to dedicate the monument to the 3,770 Oregonians who lost their lives in combat in World War II.

Many of us had fathers and grandfathers who served in World War II, or had parents who were directly impacted by the war in other ways. Now, members of this special generation — deservedly referred to as the “Greatest Generation” — are passing away all too swiftly. The war was raging seven decades ago, and most of those who actively fought in it were in their late teens or early 20s. So it’s just a natural reality that we won’t be able to hear the stories of these veterans, to whom we owe so much, very much longer. In fact, the Veterans Administration estimates that an average of 500 World War II veterans are dying every day as the infirmities of aging catch up to them.

For this reason in particular, the memorial dedicated in Salem on Friday, while overdue, is very welcome. Those who worked for so long to build this solemn tribute deserve our everlasting thanks.

The day after the World War II memorial was dedicated in Salem, another observance took place not too many miles up the Willamette Valley. At Veterans Memorial Park in Cornelius, dozens gathered for a more personal ceremony, this one for an individual soldier, U.S. Army Spc. John A. Pelham of Beaverton. Pelham was killed in action in Afghanistan Feb. 12, 2014, and his name was recently engraved onto a black granite wall — very much like the one in Salem — at the Cornelius park.

We venerate these men and women who served and died in war, and we wonder if it’s ever enough when balanced against the sacrifice of these heroes who have been taken from us.

Yet through the pain and deep sense of loss, there is a sense of healing, honor and pride in these tributes. These memorials help give the rest of us strength and encourage us to persevere. The brave examples of those who fought and died for our nation deserve no less.



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