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Remembering history for future: 65th D-Day tribute to heroes who fought for world's justice & humanity's survival


By WcP.Observer - Posted on 06 June 2009

Normandy Veteran Fredrick William Norris, who was awarded the Military Medal, passes the graves of friends from his regiment, the 5th Assualt Regiment of the Armoured Engineers

(quote)

D-Day veterans: 'we wear medals in tribute to men who never lived to receive theirs'

World leaders and veterans gathered along the beach Saturday in Normandy, France, to commemorate D-Day. For the veterans of the Normandy Landings, almost all now in their mid eighties, this was not a moment to acknowledge their own ailments. Instead, they stood proudly in the blazing sunshine to honor the comrades who lost their lives amid the shelling and the terror and the bloodshed that were the D Day landings. To pay tribute to the men with whom they will forever have an unbreakable bond: the servicemen who gave their lives in the battle that marked the beginning of the end of the War.

on the beaches of Arromanches-les-Bains, different generations came together to remember the D-Day landings, and the sacrifices made - 65 years ago

Then, on June 6 1944, these old soldiers had been agile and fleet of foot. They had survived the carnage that killed and maimed 10,000 Allied soldiers, airmen and sailors. Now, though time has wearied them, they were determined that those who died would continue to be remembered and revered. But for the 800 veterans who commemorated the 65th anniversary of D Day, when the Allies stormed the beaches of Normandy in the largest single-day amphibious invasion of all time, this was perhaps their most poignant moment. Yesterday many of them knew that by the 70th anniversary in 2014, their ranks will be sorely depleted.

on June 6, 1944, American soldiers landed in Normandy during the D-Day invasion. Coleville-Sur-Mer, the traditional site of commemorations for the invasion, is the resting place of 9,387 American soldiers

As the final words of the Exhortation were read many blinked back tears. ''It's why we are here, the only reason we come here, because we made a promise to these men,'' said Michael O'Brien, 87. ''We made a promise to honor those who gave their lives. And we wear our medals in tribute to the men who never lived to receive theirs.'' Mr O'Brien, originally from Devon but now living in Spain, has traveled to Normandy on the anniversary of D Day for the past 15 years. ''I think about so many of my friends,'' he says, gazing out across the sea of gravestones. Suddenly, he bows his head and mops the tears that spill down his cheeks. ''I will never forget the men we lost, no one ever should.'' Mr O'Brien was just one among the 150,000 troops who landed from more than 5,000 ships on the 50 mile stretch of the Normandy coastline that was divided into five sectors, Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. By the end of D Day nearly 150,000 Allied soldiers were ashore. One week later their ranks had swelled to 300,000 along with 54,000 vehicles and 100,000 tons of supplies. Total allied casualties (killed, wounded, missing, or captured) are estimated at approximately 10,000. These comprised: United States -6,603, of which 1,465 fatal. United Kingdom - 2,700. Canada - 1,074, of which 359 fatal.

a British veteran attends a ceremony on June 6, 2009 at Sword beach in Langrune-sur-Mer during the commemorations marking the 65th anniversary of the June 6, 1944 allied landings in Normandy

Only eight of the Hackney branch of the Normandy Veterans Association – which has seen its branches dwindle from 105 to 77 and which will disband later this year – were able-bodied enough to travel to Normandy. While none is sure he will make the 70th anniversary, they were determined they would stand with their former comrades yesterday. ''We have a sticker on our bus that reads: 'One more time lads,'' says Ken Watts, 84. ''Every year I come back with tears in my eyes. Mr Watts was just 19 when he waded ashore at Arromanche at 7am on June 6, 1944. He landed at Gold beach with the Devonshire Regiment. ''We were in the first wave,'' he says, grimacing now at the memory. ''There was shooting all around from the Germans. I was petrified, I don't mind admitting that. I was up to my chest in water, wading with my rifle over my head,'' he recalls. ''I saw my first dead body that day and, believe me, that is something that you never forget.''

Normandy veterans laugh as they pose for a photograph on the deck of a cross channel ferry from Portsmouth to Caen

As the veterans streamed out of Bayeux cemetery some lingered by the tombs of friends. For one veteran, in a wheelchair now, it was a heartbreaking moment. With all the strength he could muster he levered himself from his chair and shakily stood to his feet. Slowly, he raised his hand in salute before slumping in tears. It was a private and deeply poignant moment: one that was too emotional upon which to intrude.

US President Barack Obama told the story of a veteran named Jim Norene, a member of the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne, who returned to Normandy this week. "Last night, after visiting this cemetery for one last time, he passed away in his sleep," Obama said. "Jim was gravely ill when he left his home, and he knew that he might not return. But just as he did 65 years ago, he came anyway. May he now rest in peace with the boys he once bled with, and may his family always find solace in the heroism he showed here."

Normandy veterans Frank Allen, 85, and Cyril Askew, 92, both from Liverpool, look at the French coastline as they approach Caen

Obama said the world today is facing down hardships and struggles. He and other leaders also spoke of intolerance that remains in the world, a reminder that the lessons of D-Day have not been fully learned. But he said there is great strength to be drawn from what happened there on June 6, 1944. “What we cannot forget - what we must not forget - is that D-Day was a time and a place where the bravery and selflessness of a few was able to change the course of an entire century.”

D-Day: Facts on the Epic 1944 Invasion That Changed the Course of WWII

(unquote)

Photos courtesy of Getty, Huffington Post, and BBC

Original Source: NPR, Wikipedia, Telegraph and BBC News

Related Article: D-Day Memories and Heroism

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