If you are a student of history, then June 6, 1944, may trigger a true story for you. It was the date of Operation Overload, the largest amphibian invasion in history. A mass of 160,000 troops, supported by 13,000 aircraft and 6,939 ships, landed on the beaches at Normandy, France. It was the turning point of World War II, the point that marked an allied surge to eventual victory. Surprise was crucial to victory, so much so that most of the units did not even know the locations of their landings until they were approaching the beach. The location of the invasion—Normandy—was the most closely guarded secret on the planet.
The cost of that day on the beach was high. Though smoke and aircraft fire helped, many never made it to shore, gunned down by the enemy in fortified positions high above the sand. Over 10,000 were killed, wounded or missing in action. An additional 28,000 airmen died during the campaign. Germany had over 55 divisions in France, while the Allied Forces could land just eight. It was a tough, bloody fight, and among the greatest military moments of all time.
Within minutes of reaching the beach, most of the soldiers on the first wave of landing craft knew, in all likelihood, they would die. But they kept going, kept fighting, because they believed the cause was worth it. Great soldiers aren’t the ones who have the best fighting skills or tactics, but rather the ones who stay true to their mission, which they view as greater than themselves. They each faced defeat in their own life, but understood that they were a part of something bigger, for which their own loss may produce gain.
Paul the Apostle applied this thinking to his faith in Jesus Christ. In Philippians 1:21 he says “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” The cause, the mission, was greater than himself. He continues in Philippians 3:7-8, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.”
In our own lives, we will face defeat. Maybe not at the cost of our lives, but sometimes at the cost of friendships, comforts, family, work, respect, or something else that we hold closely and dearly. Like those who manned the landing craft, we face situations where we do not know all of the answers and dangers that lie in front of us. But we can face defeat when our mission is worth the cost. For the Apostle Paul, His relationship to Jesus Christ surpassed any sacrifice that lay before him. Is your life mission, your purpose, your faith, something that you hold to no matter what invasion comes your way, the bullets that you face, the beach in front of you that must be taken?
There are 9,386 graves at Colleville-sur-Mer, the final resting place for American troops who participated in the Normandy invasion. The graves face west, toward the United States. It’s a fitting memorial to those who gave their last full measure of devotion to lead the Allies to victory in World War II. And it’s a powerful reminder that a cause worth fighting for may bring personal defeat, even as the mission continues.