Wednesday, June 5, 2019 | 2 a.m.
The date was June 6, 1944, when U.S. troops landed on the beaches of Normandy. Tens of thousands of brave Americans embarked upon a dangerous and historic mission that would mark the start of a long campaign to liberate Europe from German occupation during the World War II. These Americans stared down certain danger and fought courageously to free the people of France and, later, the continent.
Through their actions, these American heroes sent a signal to the rest of Europe, and to the world, that hope was not lost, that help was on the way, and that the United States military had arrived.
On Thursday, we will celebrate those veterans’ brave actions and commemorate D-Day as an example of American heroism, even now. It is a tremendous honor, as my first international trip as your senator, to join my colleagues and represent the United States at the ceremony honoring the 75th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy, France, on the very beach where the invasion took place.
Recently, I had the opportunity to meet with one of the heroes of that fateful day, in preparation for this congressional delegation. I spoke with him about the significance of that day.
Dr. Leedell Neyland is 97 years old and lives in Henderson, but during the Allied invasion, at age 22, he was stationed over 5,000 miles away, as a steward aboard a Navy ship off the coast of Normandy.
From a young age, Neyland had an intense patriotism and a passion for service, but as an African-American in the 1940s, he was not given many options to serve our country. In 1941, he enlisted in the Navy from his home state of Mississippi and served until 1946, ultimately achieving the rank of Steward First Class. During his years of service, he would be aboard Navy minesweepers, clearing a path for Allied Forces during the final phase of combat in the European Theater as both Operation Overlord (D-Day’s Normandy Invasion) and Operation Dragoon (the invasion of Southern France) brought the Allies closer to victory over Nazi Germany.
During his service, Neyland became close with the captain of his ship, who encouraged him to use his GI Bill benefits to go to school and further his education; Neyland did just that.
After the war, Neyland came back home and enrolled in school, earning his bachelor’s degree, his master’s and, eventually, a Ph.D.
When I think about the importance of D-Day, I can’t help but think about the impact it had on Neyland’s life. Because he chose to serve our great nation, Neyland was able to go to school and build a better life for himself through his education. The GI Bill has helped countless veterans like Neyland achieve a better life, and our veterans’ service has allowed us to live our lives in freedom, peace and prosperity.
It’s for this reason that I’ve made it a priority in Congress to advocate for the more than 200,000 veterans who live in Nevada, so they can live to their fullest potential when they return home from serving our country.
As a member of the House, I helped introduce the Forever GI Bill, which the president signed into law two years ago. This bipartisan legislation expanded college aid for military veterans and allows servicemembers to use their educational benefits later in life. In the Senate, I was proud to introduce, as my first piece of legislation, the Hire Student Veterans Act, bipartisan legislation to expand the existing Work Opportunity Tax Credit to ensure that all student veterans using their GI Bill benefits can take advantage of valuable paid internships or work opportunities while in school and help them better transition to civilian life.
But civilian life was half a world away for the men who fought for the free world in Normandy’s surf and sand 75 years ago. As my colleagues and I make our way to France to the memorial, I know I’ll be struck with the magnitude of the moment, standing where thousands of brave Americans stood in 1944 to fight for the freedom we now enjoy. These comrades in arms sacrificed life and limb for a common good. I can’t help but think what more we can do for these heroes who’ve done so much for us.
Meeting with Neyland, making this pilgrimage and attending this memorial ceremony is truly a moving experience that only reaffirms and strengthens my commitment to supporting our heroes in every way I can.
Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., was elected to the Senate in November after serving one term in the U.S. House representing Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District.