‘I have never forgotten them. I know that their spirits are here’: Veterans of the Second World War mark the 78th anniversary of the D-Day landings on the beaches of Normandy
- Surviving World War II veterans gathered on the beaches of Normandy on Monday to commemorate the 78th anniversary of D-Day when Allied forces freed France of Nazi rule
- Veteran Charles Shay, a 98-year-old Penobscot Native American, from Indian Island, Maine, remembered those who were killed on D-Day: ‘I have never forgotten them and I know that their spirits are here’
- Shay was a 19-year-old Army medic when he landed on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944
- On Monday, he took part in a sage-burning ceremony near the beach in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer ahead of a ceremony featuring Gen. Mark Milley and a fly-over from United States Air Force planes
- Milley said the fighting in Ukraine is a way to ‘honor’ the legacy of these veterans
- 9,386 died fighting on D-Day and in the operations that followed
Nearly 80 years after they landed on France’s shore in the largest amphibious assault in history, surviving American World War II veterans remembered that fateful day.
On Monday, American veterans gathered at Omaha Beach on the Normandy coast amid another war ravaging Europe.
‘Ukraine is a very sad situation,’ D-Day veteran Charles Shay said. ‘I feel so sorry for the people there, and I don’t know why this war had to come, but I think the human beings like to, I think they like to fight.
‘In 1944, I landed on these beaches, and we thought we’d bring peace to the world,’ he continued. ‘But it’s not possible.’
Shay was one of nearly 20 surviving veterans who gathered in the French town of Colleville-sur-Mer to mark the D-Day anniversary .
On June 6, 1944, some 156,000 American, British and Canadian forces landed on five beaches along a 50-mile stretch of the heavily-fortified Normandy coast after deceiving German forces about their intended target.
It is widely considered to have been the beginning of the end of the Second World War, and just two months later, all of northern France had been liberated from Nazi rule.
By the following spring, the Allied Forces had declared victory over its enemies.
Nearly 37,000 people died on both sides of the war that day, including 2,501 Americans.
WWII veteran Charles Shay, 97 pays tribute to soldiers during a D-Day commemoration ceremony of the 78th anniversary in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, Normandy on Monday. Shay, who now lives in Normandy, was a 19-year-old Army medic when he landed on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944
Shay handed over the remembrance task to another Native American, from the Crow tribe, Julia Kelly, right, a Gulf War veteran, who performed the sage ritual at this year’s ceremony
Shay took in the scents as he remembered those who did not survive the fateful attack – which historians consider to be the beginning of the Second World War
‘I have never forgotten them and I know that their spirits are here,’ Shay, who was a 19-year-old US Army medic when he landed on Omaha Beach all those years ago, told the Associated Press on Monday.
The 98-year-old Penobscot Native American, from Indian Island, Maine, took part in a sage-burning ceremony near the beach in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer ahead of a ceremony featuring Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
But this year, Shay handed over the remembrance task to another Native American, from the Crow tribe, Julia Kelly, a Gulf War veteran, who performed the sage ritual.
‘Never forget, never forget,’ she said. ‘In this time, in any time, war is not good.’
United States Air Force crafts are also scheduled to fly over the American Cemetery where 9,386 soldiers, who died in D-Day and the operations that followed, are buried.
World War II reenactors gather on Omaha Beach in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, Normandy to re-enact the fateful day 78 years ago
World War II 101st Airborne Paratrooper Vincent Speranza smoked as he watched the commemorations on Monday
Second Lt. Betty L. Huffman Rosevear, of the Army Norse Corps, right, shook hands with infantry Regiment’s Tec6 Raymond E. Dawkians, left, next to Cpl. Robert L Chouinard at the ceremony on Monday
Private Shay, born on June 27, 1924 in Bristol, Connecticut, was part of the assault battalion of the first wave on June 6, 1944
Shay is pictured arriving at the Deauville-Normandie Airport in Saint-Gatien-des-Bois ahead of the ceremony
On D-Day, Allied troops landed on the beaches codenamed Omaha, Utah, Juno, Sword and Gold, carried by 7,000 boats
On that day 78 years ago, 4,414 Allied soldiers lost their lives, 2,501 of them Americans. More than 5,000 were wounded
Monday’s ceremony marked the first time in two years that D-Day ceremonies could be held in person, after they were paused during the coronavirus pandemic.
Despite rain, spectators cheered WWII veterans in wheelchairs who joined military re-enactors in tanks and uniforms as they rolled through the streets of Sainte-Mere-Eglise.
Several thousand people were expected to attend the ceremony later at the American Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach in the French town of Colleville-sur-Mer, including Ray Wallace, 97, a former paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division.
He said he remembers the events of the day vividly.
‘It looked like 4th of July when we were going in there [on D-Day] because all of the searchlights and anti-aircraft guns going off and of course, we could hear the flak [anti-aircraft fire] hitting the plane,’ he recalled, according to FOX 13. ‘I remember some good friends that are lost there. It’s a little emotional then.’
On D-Day, Wallace said, his plane was hit and caught fire, forcing him to jump earlier than expected.
He landed 20 miles away from the town of Sainte-Mere-Eglise, the first French village to be liberated from Nazi occupation.
‘We all got a little scared then. And then whenever the guy dropped us out, we were away from where the rest of the group was. That was scary,’ Wallace told the Associated Press.
Less than a month later, he was taken prisoner by the Germans. He was liberated after 10 months and returned to the US. Still, Wallace thinks he was lucky.
‘I remember the good friends that I lost there. So it’s a little emotional,’ he said, with sadness in his voice. ‘I guess you can say I’m proud of what I did but I didn’t do that much.’
On Monday, Wallace was asked about the secret to his longevity. ‘Calvados!’ he joked, in reference to Normandy’s local alcohol.
US WWII veteran Ray Wallace, a former paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division was one of the dozens of veterans to attend the ceremony in France on Monday
Wallace landed 20 miles away from the town of Sainte-Mere-Eglise, the first French village to be liberated from Nazi occupation, on D-Day after he was forced to jump early. He is seen here giving a thumbs-up at the memorial on Monday
A parade was held ahead of the ceremony as onlookers cheered those who helped liberate France 78 years ago
A US Airborne soldier speaks with 101-year-old Betty Huffman-Rosevear on the sidelines of the celebrations
Wallace, who is using a wheelchair, was among about 20 Second World War veterans who opened Saturday’s parade of military vehicles in Sainte-Mere-Eglise to great applause from thousands of people, in a joyful atmosphere.
He did not hide his pleasure, happily waving to the crowd as parents explained the achievements of Second World War heroes to their children.
Many history buffs, wearing military and civilian clothes from the period, also came to stage a re-enactment of the events.
And on Monday, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, gave a speech to the veterans – saying that Ukrainians fighting against Russian rule are ‘honoring’ their legacy, as the world comes together ‘against a determined invader.’
‘The world has come together in support of the defense of Ukraine against a determined invader,’ he said during his speech, adding: ‘The fight in Ukraine is about honoring these veterans of World War II.
‘Kyiv may be 2,000 kilometers away from here, they too, right now, today, are experiencing the same horrors as the French citizens experienced in World War II.’
He also said that the war in Ukraine is about ‘maintaining the so-called global rules-based international order that was established by the dead, who are buried here at this cemetery,’ according to FOX News.
Milley recalled the principle in the order that ‘strong countries cannot just invade smaller countries.
‘Each country is sovereign, and each country has the right to territorial integrity,’ he said.
Meanwhile, in Washington DC the Friends of the National World War II Memorial commemorated the historic day with a special event at the D.C. memorial.
As part of the ceremony, veterans and other dignitaries placed wreaths at the Atlantic Arch of the World War II Memorial.
U.S. soldiers hold French and U.S. flags during the 78th anniversary of D-Day ceremony in tribute to those who lost their lives and fought to restore freedom to Europe
Wreaths of flowers are displayed as French and international visitors attend the 78th anniversary of D-Day ceremony, in the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial of Colleville-sur-Mer, overlooking Omaha Beach, Monday
Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, spoke at the ceremony on Monday, telling the veterans that Ukrainians fighting against Russian rule are ‘honoring’ their legacy
On D-Day, Allied troops landed on the beaches codenamed Omaha, Utah, Juno, Sword and Gold, carried by 7,000 boats.
On that single day, 4,414 Allied soldiers lost their lives, 2,501 of them Americans. More than 5,000 were wounded.
On the German side, several thousand were killed or wounded.
The battle for Normandy lasted nearly three months, and by late August, Paris was liberated.
This year, Greg Jensen, 51, decided to visit the beach with his 20-year-old daughter from Dallas.
On Saturday, they visited the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial.
‘I took a moment to just hold the sand, and think, gosh, the blood that was spilled to give me that moment of freedom to hold that sand,’ he told Euro News. ‘That was emotional for me.’
And for 82-year-old Dale Thompson, visiting the site over the weekend was a first.
Thompson, who travelled from Florida with his wife, served in the 101st Airborne Division of the US military in the early 1960s.
He was stateside and saw no combat.
Walking amid the thousands of marble headstones, Thompson wondered how he would have reacted if he landed at D-Day.
‘I try to put myself in their place,’ he said. ‘Could I be as heroic as these people?’
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