The last of the best: A reporter reflects on the D-Day anniversary

By Christina Ruffini

/ CBS News

Heroes of D-Day remembered

We are losing them, the men who fought on the beaches. The men who charged the landing grounds. The men who fought in the hills and on the fields and through the streets of Europe. The men who didn't surrender, because they didn't know they could.

Only 5 percent of Normandy veterans were still alive to mark its 75th anniversary.

Grandfathers. Fathers. Husbands, for a remaining a few.

Trending News

The once baby-faced soldiers, now fragile caretakers of the greatest generation. Freckles turned to wrinkles. Guns replaced by canes. Men who did their duty, when asked, without complaint or reservation. Men who hand-wrote letters home and waited weeks for a response. Men who slept on the ground and ate beans from cans, never sure if they would make it. Their uniforms have faded, but the sacrifice remains.

For all their valor, these are men who did not shout their bravery. The war was something to survive, not boast about. They watched their friends die repeatedly, indiscriminately, in battle. They defended freedom in dirty clothes and rotten socks. They knew it was chance, not skill, that got them through it. They went home heroes and rarely spoke of what they endured.

But the beaches remember. And the people do, too.

The veterans who attended the D-Day memorial ceremony this week were swamped by grateful well-wishers from all over the continent. They were the pride of a nation, several nations, in their medals and distinct ballcaps. Presidents thanked them. Brigades fêted them. Teenagers snapped pictures and asked to shake their hands. The men smiled and humbly accepted the honor, because they lived that day when so many didn't. Then, unbelievably, they lived seven and a half decades more.

It's easy to get nostalgic. To attribute their acts to a bygone era or simpler times.

But it took no less courage then, as it would now, to board a boat bound for battle. To run up a hill, between bloody bodies that — for an inch each direction — might have been yours. To follow orders even when the outcome was bleak and uncertain. These men remind us of our nation's potential. They provide a clear moral center, in a world increasingly adrift.

This year's anniversary was more than a ceremony. It was a chance to say thank you, before it's too late.

Even the best of men are not immortal. Bodies break down. They crumble. They stop listening to the commands of the soldier inside. Who knows how many veterans, if any, will be left to mark the next five-year anniversary. Who knows what the world will lose when the last of them is gone. But we do know these men will face their final battle with no less honor and bravery than they did that day, seventy-five years ago in Normandy.

It is a fate to which we all must, eventually, surrender — even the men who never did.

Christina Ruffini is the CBS News foreign affairs and State Department reporter and the granddaughter of WWII veteran Anthony Ruffini, who died December 25, 1993.

First published on June 7, 2019 / 5:21 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The last of the best: A reporter reflects on D-Day anniversary

This year's anniversary was more than a ceremony. It was a chance to say thank you, before it's too late

9M ago

Teen sells enough cupcakes to take his entire family to Disney World

Isaiah Tuckett has a passion for baking, and before he entered high school, he made a business out of it

49M ago

House Democrats claim White House tried to block Kobach interview

Kobach, the former secretary of state of Kansas, met with the committee on Monday to discuss the Census

56M ago

Trump criticizes NASA moon plans he approved

In a tweet, the president disparaged NASA's moon mission plan that his administration had endorsed

1H ago

Spike Lee says Hollywood should "shut it down" in Georgia over abortion ban

The director says productions should "be on the right side of history," even if it hurts people's livelihoods

1H ago

House Democrats claim White House tried to block Kobach interview

Kobach, the former secretary of state of Kansas, met with the committee on Monday to discuss the Census

56M ago

Trump criticizes NASA moon plans he approved

In a tweet, the president disparaged NASA's moon mission plan that his administration had endorsed

1H ago

Why Democratic presidential candidates are so focused on California

The richest and most populous state in the union was an electoral afterthought until it moved up its primary

2H ago

Top Montana Dems send scathing letter to DNC over new debate rules

The Democratic National Committee released a rule change that would prevent Gov. Steve Bullock from participating

1H ago

Trump calls Pelosi a "disgrace to herself and her family"

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi reportedly said the president should be in prison, not impeached

3H ago

The last of the best: A reporter reflects on D-Day anniversary

This year's anniversary was more than a ceremony. It was a chance to say thank you, before it's too late

9M ago

U.S. Women favored to win the World Cup

Can the U.S. women take home their fourth World Cup this year?

5H ago

U.K.'s May quits as party leader, starting succession race

She will remain prime minister until a new leader is chosen, likely in late July, but will make no further moves on Brexit

5H ago

U.S. hits Iran with new sanctions targeting petrochemicals

The new sanctions target largest petrochemical company for providing support to the Revolutionary Guard Corps

5H ago

Lesbian couple beaten by men on bus for refusing to kiss

"They started behaving like hooligans, demanding that we kissed so they could enjoy watching"

3H ago

"The Last Black Man in San Francisco" stars on fighting for their hometown

The new film follows Jimmie Fails' journey to reclaim his childhood home in a neighborhood his family can no longer afford

4H ago

Highest-grossing movies of all time, ranked

What's the highest-grossing movie of all time? It might be one of your favorites

Jun 4 27 photos

Book excerpt: Andrew Rannells' "Too Much Is Not Enough"

In his memoir the Tony-nominated star of "The Book of Mormon" writes about coming from Nebraska as a drama student to New York City – a fascinating and scary place, where people drink coffee at night!

5H ago

R. Kelly's ex-road manager charged with threatening woman's father

Grand Jury in Georgia indicts Henry Mason on single count of issuing "terroristic" threat against father singer's live-in girlfriend

10H ago

3-year-old son of country star dies after "tragic accident"

Country singer Granger Smith​ says that his youngest son, River Kelly Smith, has died after an undisclosed accident

8H ago

Leader of worker protests at Google quits, citing "retaliation"

YouTube marketing manager departs after a dozen years with Google, citing "public flogging, shunning and stress"

1H ago

NASA to allow private astronauts on space station

NASA's plan could make way for visits by private-sector astronauts to the International Space Station as early as next year

2H ago

Uber to offer helicopter taxi service in NYC

Uber Copter will take select "members" on an 8-minute flight to or from Wall St. and JFK Airport — for a $200-to-$225 price

7H ago

Beyond Meat stock price soars ever higher after first earnings as public company

Market experts warn the vegan meat company's sky-high stock price — up 350% since its IPO last month — is hard to justify

Jun 6

FCC allows automatic blocking of robocalls

Phone companies can now block robocalls by default, but they are permitted to charge you for the service

Jun 6

NASA to allow private astronauts on space station

NASA's plan could make way for visits by private-sector astronauts to the International Space Station as early as next year

2H ago

24,000 pounds of garbage removed from Mount Everest

Among the 11 tons of recovered trash from the 45-day project are food wrappers, cans, bottles and empty oxygen cylinders.

19H ago

Dog owners may be stressing out their pets, study suggests

Researchers on border collies and Shetland sheepdogs, and examined coritsol levels in the hair follicles of both the pet and its owner

Jun 6

Trump administration plans to expand hunting and fishing access

The plan seeks to increase access hunting and fishing access across 1.4 million acres of protected federal lands.

Jun 6

Ladybug swarm so large it registers on radar in Southern California

"The large echo showing up on SoCal radar … is not precipitation, but actually a cloud of lady bugs …" a tweet from the National Weather Service in San Diego read

Jun 5

FDA finds asbestos in more cosmetics from Claire's Stores

Federal agency warns consumers to steer clear of additional products, saying tests detected cancer-causing mineral

3H ago

Biden reverses course on abortion funding

"I can't justify leaving millions of women without access to the care they need and the ability to exercise their constitutional protected right," Biden said Thursday

6H ago

Whole Foods recalls pesto in 5 states due to undeclared nuts

Grocery chain sold two products that could pose risk of serious or life-threatening allergic reactions, FDA says

Jun 6

Diet and fitness apps dominate the market — but is your health data safe?

More than 80 percent of dieters are turning to do-it-yourself options like diet and fitness apps

Jun 6

Doctor charged with 25 deaths ordered doses up to 40 times too strong

The charges form one of the biggest murder cases ever brought against a U.S. health care professional

Jun 6

Teen sells enough cupcakes to take his entire family to Disney World

Isaiah Tuckett has a passion for baking, and before he entered high school, he made a business out of it

49M ago

Spike Lee says Hollywood should "shut it down" in Georgia over abortion ban

The director says productions should "be on the right side of history," even if it hurts people's livelihoods

1H ago

Leader of worker protests at Google quits, citing "retaliation"

YouTube marketing manager departs after a dozen years with Google, citing "public flogging, shunning and stress"

1H ago

Fed watchdogs warn vaping companies over marketing practices

FTC and FDA say social media posts promoting "e-liquids" must include required federal warning about nicotine

2H ago

Nearly half of millennials report having a side hustle

Survey shows some millennials have side hustles to pay bills and make ends meet, others moonlight to boost their savings

3H ago

Crime

Ex-cop gets 12 1/2 years for killing woman

A former Minneapolis police officer has been sentenced to 12 and a half years in prison for fatally shooting an unarmed woman in 2017. Mohamed Noor shot Justine Damond after she called 911 to report a possible sexual assault. CBS News correspondent Tom Hanson reports.

updated 37M ago 01:48

Former cop gets 12 1/2 years for killing unarmed woman

Mohamed Noor fatally shot Justine Ruszczyk Damond when she approached his squad car in the alley behind her home

1H ago

R. Kelly's ex-road manager charged with threatening woman's father

Grand Jury in Georgia indicts Henry Mason on single count of issuing "terroristic" threat against father singer's live-in girlfriend

10H ago

Memorial services begin for victims of Virginia Beach shooting

Thursday night's funeral mass​ for Katherine "Kate" Nixon in Virginia Beach was among the first memorial services for the 12 people who died in Friday's massacre

20H ago

NYC council speaker on NYPD apology

New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who is gay, joins CBSN to discuss NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill's apology for the department's reaction to the 1969 Stonewall Inn riots. Johnson also discussed current Mayor Bill de Blasio and his plans for New York City's 2021 mayoral race.

19H ago 05:05

Trump criticizes NASA moon plans he approved

In a tweet, the president disparaged NASA's moon mission plan that his administration had endorsed

1H ago

NASA to allow private astronauts on space station

NASA's plan could make way for visits by private-sector astronauts to the International Space Station as early as next year

2H ago

NASA opening access to space station

CBS News space consultant Bill Harwood joins CBSN to discuss NASA's announcement that commercial astronauts will be allowed to travel to the International Space Station starting next year.

4H ago 06:04

Jupiter's largest moons will be visible this month

NASA has a message for space lovers this month: Look up

Jun 5

NASA taps 3 companies for moon missions

If all goes well, the landers will touch down on the moon in 2020 and 2021

May 31

11 photos of former NICU babies show how far they've come

These babies proudly hold photos of their former selves to celebrate their amazing progress since graduating from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

Jun 5 11 photos

Evidence photos in the disappearance of Jodi Huisentruit

Jodi Huisentruit, the morning news anchor at Iowa's KIMT-TV was reported missing on June 27, 1995. Mason City Police are still at work trying to solve this case 23 years later.

Jun 1 26 photos

Horrifying photos of Chernobyl and its aftermath

HBO's drama provided a devastating look at the worst nuclear accident of the 20th century. Now see what really happened.

May 31 39 photos

Memorial Day 2019: America honors the fallen

Remembering the sacrifices made by service members in our nation's wars

May 27 37 photos

John & Jacque: A tale of love and war

A look at John Needham, Jacque Villagomez and the events that led to her death

May 25 14 photos

Popular

Boy sells cupcakes to pay for Disney trip

He hasn't even started high school yet, but this 14-year-old has already tasted the sweetness of success. He started his own cupcake business and reached his ambitious goal – to make enough money to afford a trip to Disney World for his whole family.

updated 39M ago 02:13

Pentagon calls Russian ship's move "unsafe"

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan slammed Russia after one of its warships nearly collided with a U.S. Navy ship in the Philippine Sea. CBS News national security correspondent David Martin joined CBSN to break down the naval tensions between the two.

updated 57M ago 04:46

New documentary on gay pride in America

Raymond Braun traveled across the country to explore the state of gay pride in America for the documentary, "State of Pride." He joined CBSN to discuss it the day after the NYPD apologized for its behavior during the Stonewall riots of 1969, which sparked the modern gay rights movement.

1H ago 04:38

Hunter in viral photo says "prayers were answered"

Tess Talley's picture with a giraffe she just killed went viral online last year, and now the hunter is speaking out for the first time. She joined CBSN to explain why she believes trophy hunters actually help wildlife. Watch the CBSN Originals documentary, "Trophy Hunting: Killing or Conservation" on cbsnews.com/hunting.

1H ago 06:10

Officials consider demolishing Columbine High

Officials in Littleton, Colorado, are considering tearing down and rebuilding Columbine High School to thwart a growing number of people with a "morbid fascination" visiting the school. Dominic Garcia of CBS Denver station KCNC reports.

3H ago 01:20