70 years after D-Day, Reagan’s words inspire

By Alejandro Freixes, CCNN Head Writer

The invasion of Normandy was a costly attack in which thousands sacrificed their lives to free France and Western Europe from Nazi Germany.

On June 6, 1984, President Ronald Reagan gave a speech upon a 100-foot cliff called Pointe du Hoc in Normandy, France, where Army Rangers fought Nazis 40 years before. “These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs,” he said, honoring the 176,000 soldiers who rode 6,000 watercraft on D-Day, when the Allied forces of the USA, UK, and other nations fought to free Western Europe from Germany. On Friday, the 70th anniversary of D-Day was celebrated, just one day after the 10th anniversary of Reagan’s death.

The Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, will go down in history as the largest amphibious (land and water) military operation ever. Thousands sacrificed their lives to stand up to the armies of the Nazi leader, Adolf Hitler, who lost because German forces were also occupied with fighting Russian in the east.

Once World War II ended, tensions rose between the USA and Russia, despite the fact they both fought together against Germany. As one of the 15 republics in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), Russia battled with America for global dominance from 1947-1991 in the Cold War, which was fought with political influence and nuclear arms development rather than guns and bombs on the battlefield. Reagan was the president responsible for finally bringing the Cold War to a close, flexing military and verbal muscle to get Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to end the conflict.

Reagan's grave
Nancy Reagan visits her husband’s grave on Thursday, June 5, a decade after his death in 2004. The former actress was married to the president for over 50 years, standing by his side through thick and thin, even when he developed memory loss in his later years from Alzheimer’s.

Ronald Reagan was a well-known actor before becoming president, and he put those performance skills to good use by delivering brilliant words with charm and confidence. This earned him the title of “The Great Communicator”, and he famously challenged Gorbachev to dismantle the Berlin Wall separating West Germany from the Soviet-supported East Germany, declaring, “Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” The Berlin Wall did indeed come down in 1989.

When Reagan’s presidency came to an end in 1989, he went out with a bang, delivering one of the most inspiring speeches ever. Using the symbolism of America as a shining city upon a hill that he first mentioned in his 1984 acceptance speech, Reagan offered a hopeful vision of the USA’s future and role in the world.

He spoke of its welcoming embrace and how immigrants can come to the country for its incredible opportunities, expressing, “But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it and see it still…”

Images courtesy of The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Center for Public Affairs.