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A Hero, An Icon: The U.S. GI

The 20th Century has been an era of heroism and celebrity. With the advent of mass media, the brave and the beautiful have come to live in every living room, for at least a few minutes.

In Heroes and Icons, the latest segment of People Of The Century, Time magazine and CBS News focused on 20 of the most courageous, mythic people of the century.

On that list of the century's heroes is The American Veteran.

[For more information on all of these heroes and icons, read the June 6 issue of Time magazine.]

For more on 20th Century Heroes, see the Time 100/CBS News Web site.
Throughout the century -- from the doughboys of World War One, to the dogfaces of the Second World War and Korea, to the grunts of Vietnam, to the desert rats of the Gulf War -- American men and women have faced the enemy on the battlefield, and done a great deal to shape our world.

Over the course of this century, America has been involved in the two great world wars as well as several smaller conflicts. Millions of American men and woman participated; almost a quarter of a million gave their lives.

Although they were sent to war with lofty words, these men and women didn't usually think in those exalted terms.

"To say that I was fighting for democracy and idealism and the United States and apple pie and mother and all thatÂ… No, that wasn't what it was," says Bob Slaughter, who, as a 19-year-old sergeant, landed at Omaha Beach on D-Day. "It was fighting for each other...fighting for my buddies."

Sergeant Andy Rooney, reporting for the Army newspaper Stars & Stripes, landed at Normandy a few days after D-Day. Looking back, he sees a larger picture.

Says Rooney, who is known to millions for his commentaries on 60 Minutes: "There's no doubt that D-Day was one of the most important days in the history of life on Earth because had we not won the invasion -- actually got our troops across, so that we could move into France and then across Germany -- Europe would have been gone. And it would have changed the course of history forever. Hitler would have been in charge."

At age 74, Bob Slaughter spends one day a year at a reunion with his war buddies, whose numbers are dwindling. He spends most of his time crusading for a D-Day Memorial to be built on a site in Bedford, Virginia, near Slaughter's hometown. Located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Bedford today is a small town, just as it was 55 years ago.

Why build a D-Day memorial in Bedford?

Fifty-five years ago, when American troops landed on Omaha Beach, 35 boys from Bedford were among them. Twenty-one of them died that day, giving Bedford thterrible distinction of losing more men on D-Day per capita than any other place in America.

The real heroes, Slaughter says, are those Bedford boys, and the thousands of others who made the same sacrifice: "They're heroes. If you want to find the heroes you go over to Normandy and look at those cemeteries. Those guys been over there for 55 years, laying there. Most of 'em are forgot, just layin' over there, and they died so we could do the things we do every day. And they're the heroes."

Produced by David Kohn;