Veterans Take Center Stage in D-Day Commemoration
(June 8, 2009)
Surviving members of the famed Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, participate in a ceremony honoring the 65th anniversary of D-Day, at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, June 6. The group was part of more than two dozen D-Day veterans honored in ceremonies across the Normandy region.
U.S. Army photo by Bill Roche
||NORMANDY AMERICAN CEMETERY AND
MEMORIAL, France, June 7, 2009
For nearly a week Department of Defense
civilians and servicemembers from the Army, Air Force, Navy and
Marines have been deployed to the small French town of Sainte Mere
Eglise and this memorial beside Omaha Beach supporting events in
honor of the 65th anniversary of D-Day.
Towns across Normandy have also been abuzz with history buffs,
tourists, reenactors in period uniforms driving World War II tanks,
trucks and jeeps, and more than two dozen surviving World War II
veterans attending commemorative events in the region.
The big event of the week was U.S. President Barack Obama's
involvement in the ceremony here June 6, the actual
anniversary date. On that day the cemetery, home to the
remains of 9,387 American servicemembers who gave
their lives here,was the talk of the international media, as nearly 600
correspondents from media ranging from local French newspapers to
CNN were on scene at the 172-acre burial grounds to capture Obama's
comments during the ceremony. Yet many servicemembers said that while the president's visit was the
icing on the cake, the focus of the event remained right where it should be - on
"I have the utmost respect for the commander-in-chief," said Pfc. Lawrence Hall,
1st Infantry Division M1 Abrams tank driver at Fort Riley, Kansas, and one of
the youngest servicemembers at the event. "I am glad he is here to celebrate
this moment with us, but for me it is all about the veterans." |
Hall's sentiments were echoed by many other military men and women here.
"I am looking forward to seeing some of the veterans from 1st Infantry Division.
We don't have but six or seven D-Day survivors left that can come out to these
events any more," said Pfc. Aaron Fisher, who is also assigned to the 1st
"Even if I wasn't tasked to support the presidential speech at the event, I
would still come out to the event," said Fisher. "I've gotten to meet a couple
veterans. Each one's story impresses me more than I ever knew they could."
Obama's remarks focused on the veterans as well.
"You, the veterans, are the reason we come back here every year," he said. "I
know this trip here doesn't get any easier for you each year, but we must not
forget. You changed the world. You could have hid, you could have run, but
instead you stayed and fought, fought for freedom."
This year's D-Day anniversary ceremonies may prove to be more important than
those in previous years just by virtue of time. Veterans of World War II are at
least in their 80s now, a point driven home by Obama's remarks about the death
of 101st Airborne Division veteran Jim Norene, who came to Normandy for the
ceremony but died the night before.
"Jim was gravely ill when he left his home, and he knew that he might not
return," the president said. "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."
In addition to the more than 9,000 remains buried on the bluffs overlooking
Omaha Beach, the cemetery has the names of 1,557 Americans who lost their lives
in the conflict but could not be located or identified, inscribed on the walls
of a semicircular garden.
"There is no more important reason to come here other than to honor their
legacy, no matter who comes," said Hall. "If they're here this weekend, I'll be
By USAF Tech. Sgt. Michael Voss
435th Air Base Wing Public Affairs Office
Special to American Forces Press Service
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