On the evening of June 6, 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt took to the radio to tell Americans about the Allied invasion that had taken place a world away on the beaches of Normandy, France.
"My fellow Americans," he said, "last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our allies were crossing the [English] Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far."
On Tuesday, 79 years later, officials will place a wreath on the bow ramp of a D-Day landing craft at the Museum of American Armor in Old Bethpage, one of countless ceremonies held across the nation and in Europe to honor the sacrifices of those involved in what remains the largest amphibious assault in history — and a moment that marked the beginning of the end of World War II.
But a recent national survey has found that a quarter of Americans didn't know that D-Day occurred during World War II — and less than half knew FDR was president when it did.
Much of the history of World War II isn't being taught in depth these days, if at all, Gloria Sesso, co-president of the Long Island Council for Social Studies, said Monday. Most of what students do know is from movies such as "Saving Private Ryan," TV miniseries such as "Band of Brothers" and video games such as "Call of Duty." Which is to say: "They don't know much," she said.
To that end, the Museum of American Armor has announced a D-Day essay challenge open to Long Island college students, to begin Tuesday and run through March 2024.
The winner will win a trip to Normandy for the 80th anniversary D-Day celebration in 2024.
"With such basic historic facts unknown to many college students, there is little surprise that few appreciate how our geo-political world is defined by the courage, valor, and sacrifice of Americans who answered the call of freedom over seventy-five years ago," founder and president of the Museum of American Armor, Lawrence Kadish, said in a statement announcing the contest.
"Without being anchored to our history, we are a nation adrift," he added.
Museum officials said there is no essay length requirement and no required medium (i.e., video presentations are welcome). The most important criteria will be perspective and insight into the meaning of D-Day and the legacy of those who fought there. The 1944 invasion reestablished an Allied foothold on mainland Europe and led to the liberation of France and ultimately the defeat of Germany and the Axis powers in Europe.
A career social studies teacher at Forest Hill High School in Queens and later in the Half Hollow Hills School District, Sesso said the state Department of Education's de-emphasis on social studies and history has led to concerns that students don't understand the role of events such as D-Day in shaping world history.
"The fact you have free speech and can say what you want today is because of events like D-Day," she said. "We fought World War II to help save democracy."
For more information on the contest, visit the Museum of American Armor website at www.museumofamericanarmor.com or call 516-454-8265.