Some of their young faces looked confident; others appeared naive.
The images, caught in military enlistment photographs, are often common in the traits they reflect — anxieties and hopes of serving in the military. The photos come to mind today as the world observes the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landing at Normandy in German-occupied France.
The mission, of course, was far from common. The invasion became one of the fiercest and remembered troop movements in world history. Indeed, many believe that D-Day is the reason that freedom exists in America, Europe and other stretches of the world.
That is a rather weighty responsibility for these young faces.
Locally, there are perhaps two dozen names of Madison County men who were D-Day veterans. Only a few are still with us. They deserve more than our thanks.
They deserve our understanding of how young lives are suddenly thrust into a military campaign on which the fate of much the world rested.
The mission had been postponed since May due to inclimate weather. On June 5, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower determined the launch would be the next day. More than 3,000 Allied ships, 1,000 British bombers, 18,000 British and American parachutists crossed the English Channel, coming ashore at Utah and Omaha beaches. About 1,300 American, British and Canadian troops would be lost.
The immensity of the plan — the largest amphibious operation in history — had to be nearly incomprehensible to the young men as they neared the beach.
They were the paratroopers who floated toward the beach — unsure if they would land safely on sand or be washed into the water. They were the pilots who navigated their aircraft to bring soldiers as close to the target as possible. They were the infantry jumping into challenging waters with a goal of just hitting solid ground.
Whatever emotions crossed their minds, we now 70 years later can only imagine. We should all pause for a few moments, do some Internet searches and look back at those young men and try to appreciate the incredible value of D-Day.
The photos may show the uncertainty of the lives before them.
But now, we can say those faces not only performed their job well but they participated in a momentous mission. Their youth would turn into lives well lived.
More coverage To read a recent Herald Bulletin news article about D-Day, visit heraldbulletin.com and search for "D-Day."