Historical Amnesia

Allied forces on their way to the French coastline on June 6, 1944

Allied forces on their way to the French coastline on June 6, 1944

“I was looking toward land and saw a large shell fall right on a landing craft full of men. I had been praying quite a bit through the night as we approached the French coast but now I began praying more earnestly than ever. Danger was everywhere; death was not far off. I knew that God alone is the maker and preserver of life, who loves to hear and answer prayer. We finally landed and our assault craft was miraculously spared, for we landed with no shells hitting our boat.”– Capt. John G. Burkhalter, Chaplain with the “Fighting First” division in Normandy, France in a letter to his wife, Mable

When Captain Burkhalter wrote those words to his wife 70 years ago, many of us readers and writers of blogs weren’t even born yet…some of our parents may not have been around either. It’s hard to imagine the horrific sights and sounds that greeted the soldiers and airmen who stormed the beaches of France on June 6, 1944. They were, as Capt. Burkhalter says later in his letter, “impressions made on my mind that will never leave it.”

For those who care to look, their words and remembrances of that day are easily found. But what if we don’t even know or care to know what happened on D-Day and why Americans died for a cause that they knew was bigger than them?

Evidence is all around us of the lack of knowledge the average educated American has of our own nation’s history. According to a recent study done by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), less than half of those surveyed knew who was president on D-Day (it was Roosevelt) and one quarter of us don’t even know that it happened during World War II!

This is sad news for a nation that expects to remain free. Anne Neal, president of ACTA, calls it “a slap in the face for all those who fought so valiantly for America’s freedoms.” She goes on to say that college students are graduating with little understanding of American history because courses in it are no longer required on most campuses: “We aren’t adequately preparing the next generation for the challenges of career and community with this apathetic approach to our national heritage. These college graduates are unlikely to understand the cost of maintaining our nation’s freedom.”

Capt. Burkhalter knew the cost because he saw it firsthand. So did Navy medic Virgil Mounts, who at age 16 (according to most accounts) was the youngest hero to die on D-Day. Hospital Apprentice Mounts, a Kentucky boy, was barely old enough to drive when he and fellow medic Frank Walden were attending to some wounded GI’s on the beach when enemy fire landed near them. Shrapnel tore through Beachmaster Mounts’ body and into Walden. The only difference in the stories of these two men is that one ended that day, while the other (Walden) lived to become an old man.

Contrary to the popular saying, ignorance is not bliss.  How long can it be acceptable when most people know more about who won the last Survivor competition than they do about their own history or how their government is supposed to work?  ACTA’s president is exactly right to say that this is a slap in the face to those who gave their lives in service to our nation.  No one can defend—or have the responsibility to defend– freedoms they don’t even know they have. It’s the reason why it was unlawful to educate slaves here in America…and why homeschooling was illegal in Nazi Germany…

Tyranny thrives on ignorance.


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