If you are reading this, you have a soldier to thank. Why?  Think about who, in part, gave you the ability to freely talk, work, move and think today?  A soldier. Many soldiers, in fact. Ones that fought in combats of the past and ones that serve today. That’s why today, or any day, you should hug a soldier.

Today is the 67th anniversary of D-Day.  In case you don’t remember high school social studies, D-Day was the day during WWII when allied forces stormed the Nazi-occupied beaches of Normandy, France in an effort to free a path to Germany from the west. It was one of the most significant and complicated invasions of the war that led to 10,000 casualties and at least 2,500 men dead, including nearly 1,000 Canadian soldiers that were wounded or killed.  If you only remember your history through Hollywood, think Band of Brothers or Saving Private Ryan.

I had the honour of touring Normandy a few years ago while on vacation in France.  Humbling doesn’t even properly describe it. I watched the movies and read the textbooks, but never before did I really get it.  It was standing on the windy cliffs of Normandy that I first truly understood that someone died for me.  Died so that I could go to school, hold a job, vacation and have the ability to write blog posts like this one.  You hear the numbers, you learn the facts, but until you see the place where so much death and destruction occurred in the name of bringing so much good to so many people, it never really clicks.

The French are smart people. They don’t shy away from history.  A visit today to Pointe du Hoc (the photo above) on the Normandy coast allows you to see the bunkers, the concrete fortresses, the large, gapping craters that still mark the earth. It’s more than just a memorial; it’s reality alive 67 years later.

While D-Day is part of our history, the fight for freedom remains today.  In Afghanistan alone, more than 150 Canadian soldiers have lost their lives and many more have been injured fighting for freedom and security for us and others.  Since 1947, Canadian Forces men and women have participated in 72 international missions and humanitarian efforts – Afghanistan, Bosnia, Persian Gulf, Haiti, Somalia, to name just a few. And then there are the emergencies and natural disasters that happen here at home – floods, ice storms, armed stand-offs.  Emergency situations where once again, average men and women put themselves at risk for me and you.

I have the privilege of being on the volunteer board for Valour Place, which will be Canada’s first temporary residence for injured soldiers and veterans. Just like a Ronald McDonald House but for injured and recovering military men and women. It’s a small but incredibly important gesture of gratitude for those who gave so much and asked for so little in return.

Regardless of how you feel about war, or the current Canadian Forces mission, or the drive for worldwide peace, remember – you have a soldier to thank for being able to think just like that.

D-day should be more than a passing thought. Today, every day, give thanks and show your respect.  Give to important charities like Military Family Resource Centre, Soldier On or Valour Place.  If you have the ear of your MP, encourage them to step up and do more for the men and women that survived D-Day or any of the missions that came after it. And if you meet a veteran or soldier or reservist, simply shake their hand, or give a big ol’hug, and deliver a very grateful and deserving thank you.