Europe

France marks 78th anniversary of D-Day, veterans return to pay homage

Normandy beach claiming thousands of lives in World War II is a site of commemoration by troops, families, public

Cindi Cook   | 06.06.2022
France marks 78th anniversary of D-Day, veterans return to pay homage

PARIS

France marks the 78th anniversary of D-Day on Monday with the World War II veterans making a trip to the northern regions of Normandy to celebrate the occasion.

On June 6, 1944, Omaha Beach was the landing site for Allied forces who stormed the sand into Europe to defeat Nazi forces who had taken hold in many towns and villages in the northern region. Some 160,000 troops in 7,000 boats landed there, as well as on the nearby beaches of Utah, Juno, Sword, and Gold.

Over 1,000 people are expected to gather on Monday for a ceremony at the Normandy American Cemetery in the town of Colleville-sur-Mer which overlooks Omaha Beach, according to French news outlet France24. The US Aircraft will fly overhead to honor those who served.

The celebrations are also the first in two years due to lockdowns and confinement in the COVID-19 pandemic that kept both veterans and visitors away.

A 97-year-old paratrooper, Ray Wallace, made the trip and will take part in Monday’s commemoration. Wallace served in the US 82nd Airborne Division. His plane was hit and caught fire on D-Day, causing him to jump and land in the nearby town of Sainte-Mere-Eglise. A few weeks later, he was taken prisoner by the Nazis but freed 10 months after that and returned to the US.

“I guess you can say I’m proud of what I did but I didn’t do that much,” he said to France24. “I remember the good friends that I lost there so it’s a little emotional.”

Over the weekend, veterans and their families as well as those who made the trip to honor the fallen gathered at the Pegasus Bridge in Ranville, France for a commemorative service, one of the first sites liberated by the Allies from the Nazis. Those present included more than 20 British veterans who served on that day. Many other events took place in anticipation of Monday’s anniversary, which were all well-attended despite inclement weather.

Known officially as the Normandy Invasion, it left 4,414 troops killed on that day, including 2,501 Americans, and 5,000 wounded. A total of 9,843 troops from the US, Britain, and Canada were killed in the action on June 6 and in the few days thereafter.

German troops were ready for the invasion, however, with gunfire placed at strategic high points around the nearly 10-kilometer-long (6-mile) beach as the forces landed. The ocean waters as well as the beach were also heavily mined by the Germans.

“I’m enormously proud to have been a minute part of Operation Overlord,” Mary Scott, 95, told French news outlet Radio France International as she paid tribute at the beach. Scott worked in the operations center in the English port city of Portsmouth on the other side of the Channel. Seventeen at the time, she was charged with passing on radio messages as the invasion took place over each of the beaches.

“When they (the communication officers) had to respond to my messages and they lifted their lever, you heard all of the sounds of the men on the beaches, bombs, machine guns, men shouting, screaming. The war was in my ears.”

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