More than just a battle on a beach

The American Military cemetery in Normandy has 9,387 grave markers. It's a breathtaking tribute to the American troops who gave their all liberating France and the world from the grip of Adolph Hitler’s Germany. Everything surrounding D-day then and now seems to take on epic proportions.

Sixty years ago Friday, an Armada of historic proportions was beginning to gather in the English Channel. The 150,000 men, 5,000 ships, and 11,000 war planes were all awaiting word of when the invasion would begin.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, whose own political career was almost destroyed by the failure of an amphibious assault at Galipoli during the First World War, later described D-Day as “the most difficult and complicated Operation that has ever taken place.”

The D-Day invasion of “Fortress Europe” was defining moment not only in the history of World War II but also in the history of the United States. It was a time when the greatest generation left America’s heartland to fight a war that had to be won.

To General Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander and architect of D-Day, failure was not an option. In his message to the troops, General Eisenhower wrote: “You are about to embark upon the great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. We will accept nothing less than full victory!”

Tonight, Friday, in France, veterans, presidents, prime ministers, and America’s finest have begun gathering on these hallowed grounds.

D-Day was much more than a battle on the beach. It was part of an epic struggle for the soul of civilization. Had the Nazis held off the Allied forces, the world would have been a very different place today.

Sixty years later, it is almost impossible to comprehend the scope of the challenge faced by Allied forces on D-Day. The task before them was so difficult that 750 men were killed, and another 300 wounded just in a rehearsal for Operation Overlord.

Even Eisenhower had his doubts. As Allied troops headed toward the teeth of Hitler’s "Atlantic Wall," he drafted a statement taking full responsibility in the event of an Allied loss on D-Day.

But 60 years later, the eyes of America and the world are focusing again on these beaches to celebrate the triumph of America and its allies at Normandy, and to honor those who perished fighting for the freedoms too many take for granted today.

Walking among these aging heroes, we forget that the fate of the world was left in their hands, or that but for a handful of heroes on Omaha beach, that battle, and the world we live in today could have been radically different.

We can never repay them all for all they did on this sacred ground. But we can gather to remember the finest hour ever produced by America’s greatest generation.

Joe Scarborough has been in France all week as part of MSNBC's coverage of "D-Day at 60: A Celebration of Heroes, Watch in live special editions on Saturday and Sunday, 10 p.m. ET.