OUR SAY: D-Day commemorations a reminder of the enduring debt we owe

IF the events commemorating the 70th anniversary of D-Day teach us anything it is the enormous and enduring responsibility to bear witness to the lives lost in this or any war.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has joined veterans of the Normandy landings and bombing missions over occupied Europe to remember those who died in the initial assault by sea and air and in the months that followed.

Australians were a relatively small force in the D-Day landing but the price they paid over the duration of World War II was beyond measure. 

The gravestones that Australian veterans have visited in the villages of France are striking for one thing above all else, the age of the soldiers and the airmen chiseled in the stone.

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To die aged 19, 20 or 21 on a beach or in a burning plane seems almost incomprehensible today when our young people are barely out of school or university.

Today’s young men and women visit the beaches of Normandy or the fields of Flanders in annual holiday waves as tourists. 

They, like the rest of us, must be left wondering how these lives would have blossomed had they not been cut down so early.

And the saddest of all must be the veterans, now in their 90s, looking back on the lifetime of memories they have collected after the guns finally fell silent, wondering “why me”?

Standing at the gravesides of friends they can only remember as fresh-faced youths they can take solace only in knowing they have treasured the life they got to live out never forgetting those whose short life is marked in a stone set in foreign soil.

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