At Miramar National Cemetery’s 13th annual Memorial Day ceremony, the director of San Diego State University’s Center for War and Society spoke of how he held D-Day troops in awe — citing the Americans’ “superhuman strength” at Omaha Beach.

“I’d seen combat in Iraq, but this seemed near impossible,” said the director, history professor Gregory A. Daddis.

In the audience of 400 were four World War II veterans, three of whom leave Wednesday for Normandy, France — for the 80th anniversary commemoration of D-Day.

The trip is “a form of love,” said 97-year-old Army veteran Andre Chappaz, one of the travelers.

“The people in the surrounding cities (of Normandy), they love us,” he said. He looks forward to relating to the French people.

Joining Chappaz will be Calvin Shiner, a 101-year-old Army Quartermaster Corps veteran, and Max Gurney, a 102-year-old Army veteran.

They will be awarded the French Legion of Honor.

As featured speaker, Daddis linked the fight 80 years ago to free Europe from the Nazis to President Franklin Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union address, known as the “Four Freedoms Speech.” 

But in a departure from traditional Memorial Day remarks, retired Col. Daddis suggested that FDR’s dream of freedom from fear has yet to be realized.

Rather just memorializing the end of WWII and “only venerating those celebrated Americans of the Greatest Generation who are here today, perhaps we should pause and ask how that conflict truly helped fulfill Roosevelt’s dream of a world in which aggression was no longer possible,” Gaddis said.

He asked: Was the United States and the larger world truly free from fear?

“Historical records suggest not so much,” Gaddis said.

He told how Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin seemed only “a new Hitler, with a better mustache.”

“Mustaches aside,” he said, “the fear was real even for the Greatest Generation fresh from winning a war in the name of democracy and freedom.”

He told how Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy by the 1950s gained national attention by “arguing the United States was engaged in a final all-out battle against its atheistic communist foe.”

Daddis, who served in the Army for 25 years and once taught at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, said McCarthy struck a chord with many Americans.

His “long preamble” served to tee up “a rather uncomfortable proposition” — that Americans have been in a state of perpetual war (including the Cold War) for more than eight decades.

”The number of soldiers needed to fight these wars has certainly varied over time as has our collective interest level,” he said. “But it seems undeniable that our modern definitions of freedom are inherently linked with words like security and defense and military readiness. And yes, war.”

Such a truth should give Americans pause, Daddis said.

“Is it possible that being in a constant state of war inhibits rather than promotes our own freedoms and the freedoms of others?” he asked. “Could it be that war is a deterrent rather than a promoter of liberty and freedom?”

He said these questions “cut to the very heart of our national identity.”

Being in a persistent state of conflict for the eight decades since 1941 “has shaped what it means to be an American,” he said.

He challenged his audience not just to honor the sacrifices of war dead “but to emulate them.”

“It takes courage to fight against fear — and not just abroad but at home,” Daddis said. “It takes courage to turn away from the partisan attacks that divide us [and] instead seek ways to unify us as Americans. 

”It takes courage, dare I say, to think about the resources we spend on maintaining if not enlarging the military-industrial complex and how those resources might be reprioritized for the good of all humanity.”

Greta Hamilton, director of Miramar and Fort Rosecrans national cemeteries, said during Sunday’s ceremony: “The cost of war is incalculable. We can never repay the families who have lost loved ones in defense of this nation.”

Recalling that more than 156,000 Allied troops executed the largest invasion in modern history on D-Day resulting in the deaths of 2,501 American troops, Hamilton said soldiers willingly stepped into harm’s way, knowing that they might not see family members again.

“We have an obligation to remember and honor every one of them,” she said. “D-Day is among the most noteworthy days of sacrifice, overcoming impossible odds, displaying steadfast devotions to a noble cause.”

Julie Duhaut-Bedos, consul general of France, told the veterans: “We will never forget your unwavering courage, which helped forge the deep and solid alliance between the United States and France that endures to this day.”

Veteran Shiner, speaking to Times of San Diego, said of D-Day: “I was so busy running … scared … working and could hardly think. The hardest was getting back alive.

“I prayed many days, many nights.”

About returning to Normandy, Shiner said: “I just can’t tell you how good it makes me feel.”

Veteran Gurney, who in 1942 took part in Operation Torch, a North African prelude to D-Day, said after the ceremony that he hopes for peace in the world.

“I believe in humanity,” he said. “You have to keep the faith.”