You probably saw the pictures. Sixty veterans, well into their 90s, recently participated in the Normandy American Ceremony on the sun-drenched bluff above the Normandy beaches where 10,000 of their comrade soldiers gave their lives 75 years ago. One veteran on the stage with the world leaders received a helping hand from France’s President Emmanuel Macron, as he struggled to stand up to pay tribute to his fallen brothers during the dramatic ceremony. Seventy-five years earlier, 19-year-old Private Russell Pickett was a member of the famed 29th Infantry Division that was among the first to land and storm the French beaches at Normandy. Considering that an 18-year-old soldier then would be age 93 today, this commemoration is expected to be the last to include living D-Day veterans.
D-Day was the greatest amphibious invasion in history. Almost 7,000 vessels, 11,500 airplanes and 156,000 Allied soldiers crossed from Britain to five beaches in France to create a foothold against Nazi Germany. With the Soviet Red Army moving in from the East, the purpose of the maneuver was to begin the liberation of Europe from Nazi domination. It was the turning point of the War. With months of secret planning, this make-or-break military operation, which included soldiers from the United States, Britain, Canada and the Free France Movement, endured anywhere from 2,500 to 4,500 casualties before the broad front of soldiers even landed, neck-deep in the water, to make their way to beaches peppered with German snipers with machine guns, land mines, bodies and barbed wire. Stories of the heroism and suffering, terror, chaos and errors—paratroopers being dropped in wrong places, landing craft off course and heavily-laden troops dumped into too deep water and drowning—are put in proper perspective by the words of those who lived through the experience. President Franklin Roosevelt, for example, said, “They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate.” British Prime Minister Winston Churchill noted, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” General Eisenhower, at the 20th anniversary, said, “These people gave us a chance, and they bought time for us, so that we could do better than we did before…to preserve freedom and systems of self-government in the world.” And, at the last D-Day ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary, President Barak Obama reflected, “It was unknowable then, but so much of the progress that would define the 20th century, on both sides of the Atlantic, came down to the battle for a slice of beach 6 miles long and 2 miles wide.” President Trump, speaking at the 75th anniversary, was surely correct when he called these veterans “…among the greatest Americans who will ever live.”
But just as D-Day marked a turning point in history, some now question whether this was an end to an era? The devastation wrought by the war helped to create a decades-long spirit of cooperation between European capitals that gave rise to the European Union. The European Union was viewed as cementing the Allied peace, and America became firmly ensconced as the savior of democracy—the free world’s protector, its police force. Times have surely changed. Britain is now in a national debate about leaving the European Union. America, under the current administration, seems to no longer relish its former status as democracy’s “watchdog,” following instead a philosophical shift toward “super nationalism” resulting in concerns from old allies who fear abandonment. Some wonder: “Is this the new norm? Is this the beginning of an international trend where World War ll alliances and their memories reflect something applicable generations ago, but hold very little political cache for today’s generation and seemingly not enough to bind us forever?” Even Pope Francis recently weighed in on this question when he said, “Someone could ask under his breath, ‘Is this the end of a 70-year-old adventure?’”
As D-Day soldiers and Tuskegee Airmen age and leave us, we may lose not only a living reminder of a gloried past, but also of a citizenry that instinctively knew that freedom is an earned privilege—something not bestowed upon us, but rather the result of a struggle to achieve and to maintain. How we proceed from this point will set the American path for the immediate future and beyond. We can debate how to proceed, but one issue of surefire importance in defeating tyranny that is almost upon us is the 2020 Census. Although it is done every 10 years, its impact can be permanent. At a recent House panel discussion at LaGuardia Community College, Congressman Meeks said it best. He argues that this is the most important federal effort since the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of the 1960s, declaring, “That’s what is at stake here.” Everything from federal funding to representation in Congress is contingent on the Census count. For example, before the 1950 Census count, New York State had 45 seats in the House of Representatives. Today, we have 27 Congress members and the fear is that we will lose two more of them; $678 billion in federal aid is up for grabs—$73 billion for New York alone. Money for Medicare, Medicaid, highway and transportation infrastructure, education, school lunches, and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs for women, infants and children are just some of what is at jeopardy for the undercounted and the uncounted. Although the U.S. Supreme Court is currently reviewing the legitimacy of including a new question on the 2020 Census pertaining to the individual’s citizenship status, called for by the Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, who oversees the Census and which Census experts view as a veiled way to suppress participation, despite the ruling, a climate of fear is already permeating the Census process. If people aren’t counted, we lose out. For New Yorkers, and especially for public sector union members, the effect will be devastating.
As we commemorate the sacrifices of D-Day veterans and celebrate the valor of all of our soldiers, participating in the 2020 Census seems like the least we can do to continue their fight for our core values. Remember: Nazi Germany was built to create a “master race.” It did this by exclusion and terror. The 2020 Census is the best weapon to combat today’s tyranny in our own country. Let’s use it. We count, but you must be counted. Much is at stake.
Gregory Floyd is president of Teamsters Local 237 and vice president-at large on the General Board of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.