June 6th of this year marked the seventy-fifth anniversary of D-Day, one of the most significant moments in World War II. I recently learned a fact about D-Day that surprised me. Of the 59,000 U.S. troops who landed, only four received the Medal of Honor for their heroics that day1. Given the nature of the operation, I assumed this number would have been higher.
From one interview I heard2, the small number of these awards was not for lack of acts of valor, but due instead to a lack of official documentation. Since the award is so distinguished, the documentation requirements are very high. But on D-Day, the intensity of the combat was such that many officers didn’t survive long enough to complete the necessary paperwork. And thus many who would have otherwise been awarded the highest honor never were.
Now, although official recognition would have been nice, it still doesn’t diminish what was done. Those who survived still knew what had taken place, as did those who had been saved by their courage.
In life, there’s no guarantee of what will be recognized or remembered. It’s even possible that your greatest contributions or accomplishments will never be widely acknowledged. The sacrifice or courage you exhibit in key moments may only be known to a few, if any.
And that’s okay.
Formal recognition can be nice—and may help to inspire others. But if what you do is worth doing in the first place, it will still be worth doing whether recognition comes or not.
I found some places list the number of recipients as twelve, but this number includes awards given during the several weeks of combat after D-Day. From everything I’ve seen and heard, only four were given for heroics on June 6 itself. ↩︎