OMAHA BEACH, France (AP) – The overwhelming sound of gunfire and men’s screams. That’s how World War II veteran Marie Scott described D-Day, as ceremonies were held Tuesday to honor those who fought for freedom in the largest sea, air and land operation in history.
This year’s tribute to the young soldiers who died in Normandy also reminds veterans, officials and visitors of what Ukraine is facing today.
A whistling wind accompanied scores of reenactors who descended on Omaha Beach at dawn to mark the 79th anniversary of the offensive that led to the liberation of France and Western Europe from Nazi control. Some brought bunches of flowers. others waved American flags.
Scott experienced it all with his own ears. He was only 17 when he was appointed as a communications operator in Portsmouth, England. His job was to relay messages to the men on the ground and to General Dwight D. between Eisenhower and the senior officers who oversaw the operation.
“I was in the war. I heard gunshots, machine guns, bombing planes, men shouting, shouting, people giving orders,” he recalls.
“After a few seconds of terror, I realized what was going on … and I thought, well, you know, there’s no time to panic. You have work to do. So get on with it. Which I did.”
Now about to turn 97, Scott said D-Day was a “pivotal point” in his life.
“As a non-combatant, I was still in the war and I was aware of the enormity of the war. People were dying at that moment.”
Scott said he was “disgusted” that another war was now raging on the European continent following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
“For me, the war should be undertaken only if it is absolutely (necessary), if there is no other way to solve the problem. It’s an atrocity. That’s how I feel,” he said.
British veteran Mervyn Kersh, who landed on Gold Beach on D-Day, said Western allies should send maximum military aid to Ukraine. “The only way to stay free is to be strong.”
98-year-old Kersh added with a sense of humor. “I’m still in the reserve, now I’m waiting to go to Ukraine. The next job.”
A ceremony was held Tuesday at the Colville-sur-Marie American Cemetery, overlooking Omaha Beach, which houses the graves of 9,386 American soldiers, most of whom died during the D-Day landings and subsequent operations. 1557 names of the missing are written on the walls. Some of those mentioned have since been recovered and recognized.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, speaking to a crowd of more than 40 World War II veterans and visitors, said: “It is our duty to protect … the principles for which the Allies fought … civilians are protected from the ravages of war, (and) sovereignty and territorial integrity are respected.”
He paid tribute to “brave young men and women from Ukraine who are learning to fight for their lives and their country.”
“Today I am more determined than ever to stand by them for as long as it takes,” he said.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, also participated in the commemoration ceremony at the American cemetery.
The Normandy celebrations provided a chance for Millie to stay with the troops who count her as one of their own as she ends her four-decade military career. The president commanded both the 82nd Airborne and 101st Airborne Divisions, and the fields, cities and roads of Normandy are hallowed ground for these units.
“For me, being among the soldiers is home,” he said. On June 10, Millie begins her 44th year in the military. He will retire at the end of September as the president’s term ends.
Hundreds of current soldiers from both units were there, some on leave with a beer in hand, some jumping out of a plane just like their predecessors did 79 years ago.
It was Milli’s last visit to Normandy as their commander-in-chief, and as he walked through Sainte-Mer-Eglise, known as the first city to be liberated from Nazi occupation, attended commemorative football matches or spoke at ceremonies, it seemed that the general stopped there. talk and give each of them a token.
An international ceremony was later planned at the nearby British Normandy Memorial with officials from Germany and nine major allies: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Poland, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States. French Defense Minister Sébastien Lecornu and British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace were expected to attend.
In a separate event, French President Emmanuel Macron attended a ceremony on Tuesday in the presence of 100-year-old Leon Gaultier, the last surviving member of Kieffer’s commandos, the elite French unit that was among the first waves to land in Normandy.
Before Tuesday’s services, many visitors came to the American Cemetery to pay their respects to those who gave their lives.
Jean-Philippe Bertrand, from the southern French city of Marseille, crossed countless lines of white crosses on Monday.
“It is impossible to make such a sacrifice for my freedom, my son’s freedom,” he said.
“You hear about it on the news and you see the pictures. But when you are here and see the reality and the sacrifice that has been made for our beautiful country. I wanted to take a once-in-a-lifetime trip to thank all these people to whom we owe so much,” he added.
German professor Andreas Fuchs, who teaches French in Berlin, brought 10- to 12-year-old students to Normandy through an exchange program.
“It is very important that children have a moment in their lives to understand the liberation of Europe. And to know what peace has been like for 80 years,” he said.
Jeffrey Schaefer, Nicholas Garrigan, and Thomas Padilla contributed to the story.
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