Second World War veterans honored in Normandy | Latest titles
SYLVIE CORBET and JEFF SCHAEFFER Associated Press
RANVILLE, France (AP) — More than 20 British World War II veterans gathered Sunday near the Pegasus Bridge in northwestern France, one of the first sites liberated by Nazi Germany’s allied forces , for commemorations in honor of the approximately 160,000 soldiers from Britain, the United States, Canada and other nations who landed in Normandy on June 6, 1944.
Veterans, their families and French and international visitors braved the rainy weather to take part in a series of events this weekend and Monday for the 78th anniversary of D-Day.
This year’s D-Day anniversary comes after two consecutive years of the COVID-19 pandemic restricting or deterring visitors. Many felt that celebrations honoring those who brought peace and freedom to the continent had special significance this year as war rages again in Europe since Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 february.
Dozens of American veterans were also attending events in the area, ahead of Monday’s ceremony at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, which houses the graves of 9,386 who died in action on D-Day and in the operations that followed.
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Peter Smoothy, 97, served in Britain’s Royal Navy and landed on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.
“The first thing I remember is the poor guys who didn’t come back… That was a long time ago now, almost 80 years… And we still live here,” he said. told the Associated Press. “We think of all those poor guys who didn’t leave the beach that day, their last day, but they are still in our heads.”
Greeted to the sound of bagpipes at the Pegasus Memorial in the French town of Ranville, British veterans watched a ceremony commemorating a key operation in the opening minutes of the Allied invasion of Normandy, when troops had to take control of a strategically crucial bridge.
Bill Gladden, 98, took part in Britain’s D-Day airborne operation and was later shot while defending the bridge.
“I landed on D-Day and was injured on June 18… So I spent three years in hospital,” he said.
Meanwhile, on the British side of the Channel, Mary Scott, then 17, worked at the Portsmouth communications center listening to coded messages coming from the front line and relaying them as part of operations over Utah , Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword Beaches.
“The war was in my ears,” she recalled, describing the radio machine she operated via levers.
“When they (the communications officers) had to respond to my messages and they lifted their lever, you heard all the sounds of men on the beaches: bombs, machine guns, men shouting, screaming.”
Scott, who will soon be 96, said she became very “emotional” when she arrived in Normandy on Saturday on a trip organized by the Taxi Charity for Military Veterans. She was in tears seeing the landing beaches.
“Suddenly I thought maybe some of these young men I had been talking to…that they were dead,” she said.
The symbol is all the stronger since across the Channel, Queen Elizabeth II, who served during the Second World War as a driver and mechanic in the army, is celebrating her 70th birthday on the throne.
“The women were involved,” Scott pointed out. “I mean, I’m extremely proud to have been part of Operation Overlord.”
Scott’s face turned to sadness when she mentioned the war in Ukraine.
“Why can’t we learn from past experiences? Why can’t we do this? What’s wrong with us? she asked. “War should teach us something but it never penetrates very long.”
This year, many visitors came to see the monuments marking the key moments of the fight and to show their gratitude to the soldiers. World War II history buffs dressed in wartime uniforms have been seen in jeeps and military vehicles on the back roads of Normandy.
Greg Jensen, 51, came with his 20-year-old daughter from Dallas. On Saturday, they visited the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, overlooking Omaha Beach.
“I took a moment to hold the sand and you think, my God, the blood that was shed to give me this moment and the freedom to hold this sand,” he said. “It was emotional for me.”
“I hope a lot of this younger generation is watching because we can’t forget what happened 78 years ago,” Jensen said, thinking particularly of the fighting in Ukraine.
Andy Hamilton, a 57-year-old retired police officer, came on holiday with his family, including his two 8-year-old grandsons, from Shropshire in England.
“We are now showing our respect for the sites here and giving the grandchildren a sense of what WWII was like…and how many people gave their lives to sacrifice for everyone’s freedom,” did he declare. .
On D-Day, Allied troops landed on the beaches codenamed Omaha, Utah, Juno, Sword and Gold, carried by 7,000 boats. On that day alone, 4,414 Allied soldiers lost their lives, including 2,501 Americans. Over 5,000 were injured. On the German side, several thousand were killed or wounded.