Weekly Columns

World War II was a generation-defining event. Perhaps no aspect was more significant than the invasion of Normandy, also known as D-Day, on June 6, 1944.

Eighty years since the massive undertaking codenamed Operation Overlord – which saw five naval assault divisions descend on the beaches of France including 7,000 ships and landing craft manned by over 195,000 naval personnel to transport 133,000 Allied troops – we still marvel at the scope and scale of this surprise attack that marked a turning point for the war’s European theater. 

As time marches forward and more of the heroes who served in this assault pass on, there are fewer and fewer opportunities to hear firsthand what it was like to be part of such a tragic yet triumphant and strategically key moment. That’s why I firmly believe in highlighting this occasion and helping teach new generations of Americans about the sacrifices it required.

I was proud to author and lead passage of a resolution commemorating the historic operation and expressing the Senate’s gratitude and appreciation to the members of the U.S. Armed Forces and Allied troops responsible for carrying out this unprecedented maneuver that proved decisive in securing victory against Nazi Germany.

Every year brings an opportunity to reflect on and honor this hallowed anniversary, recommit to educate our children and grandchildren about its importance and acknowledge the individuals who played their part in the epic battle for the future of freedom.

As Arkansans, we can be incredibly proud of the connections our state has to the courage and heroism that characterized so many stories from that day. Private First Class Harold Eugene Sellers of Jonesboro, a star athlete who passed up a football scholarship to the University of Arkansas to serve in the 101st Army Airborne, is one such example.

He was among the first casualties on D-Day when, while serving as a pathfinder marking the drop zone for his fellow paratroopers, he landed in a tree and was targeted by German machine guns. Sellers was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.

William Toombs of North Little Rock was a flight engineer and gunner aboard a B-24 aircraft who also took part in the operation. In fact, it was his first mission, and he still remembers the sight of the massive invading force below on the sea and alongside him in the skies.

They and thousands of other American and Allied soldiers played a significant role in liberating France and the wider European continent, which these citizens and their descendants still acknowledge today. I have been fortunate to witness the eternal gratitude on display for our World War II veterans when they return to the shores and villages they reclaimed from German occupation. Those special and moving scenes will never fade. 

It has been a true privilege to participate in ceremonies at Normandy for the 75th and 80th anniversaries of D-Day, meeting these members of the Greatest Generation who defended freedom and changed the course of history, with many then returning home to lead normal, quiet lives and rebuild our own country.

This group of ordinary people who did extraordinary things must never be forgotten. Who they were, what they did and the sacrifices they made are all worth our deepest reverence. It is our duty to remember and honor their legacies, but also to live and serve in a manner worthy of their example.

On behalf of all Arkansans, I will always be proud to help carry on their memories and share their stories.