News & Politics

They Conquered the World

World War II veterans salute as Taps is played during a ceremony at the World War II Memorial to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day with President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump, Friday, May 8, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

They are old men now, even by today’s standards. But as young men, they conquered the world.

Looking back 75 years as we commemorate the ending of the war in Europe, it’s hard to believe their exploits aren’t the plot of some Hollywood movie. In fact, many of their daring deeds were given the silver screen treatment — and it still seems like fiction.

Did these guys and their contemporaries really storm the beaches at Normandy, Anzio, Tarawa, and Saipan? Beach by beach, town by town, island by island they rid the world of the most malignant evil it had ever known.

This is heroism — the real kind and not the make-believe heroism of people who claim they’re heroes because of what they say or what they had to endure. When one of those fake heroes wades through an ocean of blood and guts, freezes, roasts, comes under constant fire from bullets and shells — then they can claim the mantle of “hero.”

Did I mention they freed a continent and brought peace to the entire world?

Six men, age 96-100, joined Donald Trump at the World War II Memorial to commemorate the ending of the war in Europe 75 years ago today. Originally, they were going to go to Moscow. But the pandemic forced them to cancel, so they joined the president in Washington.

Stars and Stripes:

Steven Melnikoff, now 100, was an infantryman whose Army unit was responsible for capturing more than 10,000 German soldiers.

“It was a tough battle,” Melnikoff, who lives near Baltimore, said by telephone after Friday’s ceremony. Speaking of his unit, he said: “I was with them constantly for 11 months, except the weeks and months that I spent in the hospital.” He had been shot in the neck.

The pandemic didn’t dim his desire to honor his comrades.

Melnikoff said he wasn’t worried about traveling from Maryland during the pandemic to pay his respects to all who were lost in the war, “that greatest generation.”

“We used proper protection,” he said.

For his part, the president kept his distance.

The president and first lady Melania Trump participated in a wreath-laying ceremony and toured the memorial. They paused in front of a wall of stars with the phrase “Here we mark the price of freedom,” before they returned to the White House.

Trump said the commemoration was “windy and beautiful.”

White House officials had described the veterans as “choosing nation over self” by deciding to join Trump at the ceremony.

Tom Rogan in the Washington Examiner gives some perspective on their accomplishments.

Tens of millions of innocents and Allied soldiers had died to make it possible. Cities had been ruined and lives ripped apart. But on this day 75 years ago, victory was secured. And the measure of why this moment matters is marked not simply by the victory itself but by what would come next. For in the new U.S.-led international order of freedom that followed the war and defeated the Soviet Union, humanity has benefited from the near-perfect opposite of that which a Nazi victory promised. We have had great power, peace, unparalleled prosperity, and scientific advancements in the service of humanity rather than in the pursuit of a warped racial purity.

Had the Nazis won, 2020 would look very different. The coronavirus would be the least of our problems. The Jews, the Roma, and those with congenital illnesses would be long gone. Africans would probably be slaves again, and many others also would have been worked to death on various Nazi projects. Freedom would be a fiction.

While fighting for flag and country, a new world, and an end to tyranny, they also fought for something much simpler. They fought for each other. In the end, they survived together to build the nation we have today.