On the morning of June 6, 1944, Onofrio Zicari and Donald E. Simmons arrived on Omaha Beach in Normandy as part of the fifth wave of soldiers on D-Day. They were buddies and had their whole lives ahead of them. At 21 and 20, they were only boys, caught up in a man’s war. Neither had any idea of what the next 75 years would hold.
But only one left that beach that day. Only one would return home and face the trials of everyday life as a husband and father. Simmons was the very last man out of the boat that morning, and one of the first to die.
The memory is burned in Zicari’s mind so deeply that it has taken him 75 years to finally allow himself to come back to this place. To finally grieve and gain closure. At 96 years old, he has flown nearly 5,300 miles from Las Vegas to northern France all for one little white cross.
He doesn’t come to honor America, what it is now or even what it was back then. He, like so many others, are uninterested in the politics that govern today’s nations, as well executed as they may be. He came, “so the nightmares would stop.” And he isn’t the only one who does.
The inscription on the memorial chapel here reads “for the common cause of humanity,” a statement that says less about what a nation is and more about what it and all others should stand for.
D-Day, over the years, has meant different things as times changed. In the 1960s, it was a rallying cry for the Cold war. It spoke of the greatness we were a part of, that if we could conquer then, we could do it again.
The 1980s transformed it into the basis of Ronald Reagan’s American Restoration. And now it has yet another meaning, one that presidential historian, Jon Meacham, says points to a reminder that history cannot be escaped and ‘America First’ type of isolation may have a price.
Here in Normandy, the focus is not on any one nation and its action during the war. Its memorial is held to honor all peoples and the coming together of nations against a threat to humanity.
Here ‘America First’ has little meaning. This place speaks of transatlantic relationships that continue to stand the test of time. Just look at what they have gone through. And yet, democracies here still stand for one another. Europe and America still have peaceful and stable relationships, not because of isolation but because they are willing to cooperate.
That is not to say that we can’t take care of our own borders, our own issues, and make changes where need be. But D-Day should remind us all that we can’t live just on our own. We are not all that matters.
To visit this place and remember is also to consider what the future may hold. And to ask ourselves how to maintain a balance. To understand that needing others is ok, and helping out when we can is to be part of something greater than ourselves.
That our bonds with other nations are stronger than the petty opinions we may have, but that we can’t ignore the real issues at hand either, whether within our own state lines or not.
Zicari, Simmons, and every single one of the 9,388 Stars of David and white crosses testifies to the fact that everyone loses when we can’t get along.
But to have friends who will fight for us and with us can make all the difference.
With them, we can survive to live another day, even if we live worlds apart.