ON OMAHA BEACH, FRANCE (AP) — Gunfire rang out and men screamed. This is how World War II veteran Mary Scott described D-Day, as she began festivities on Tuesday in honor of those who fought. for freedom in the largest naval, air and land operation in history.
And honoring the young soldiers who died in Normandy this year reminds veterans, officials, and visitors of what Ukraine faces today..
On Tuesday, the whistle of the wind accompanied the many merchants who came to Omaha Beach at dawn today to commemorate the 79th anniversary of the assault. This led to the liberation of France and Western Europe from Nazi control. Some of them brought bouquets of flowers. Others waved American flags.
Scott lived it all through her ears. She was only 17 years old when she was hired as a communications officer in Portsmouth, England. Its job was to relay messages between the men on the ground and General Dwight D. Eisenhower and the senior officers who were overseeing the operation.
I was at war. I could hear gunfire, machine guns, planes bombing, men shouting and shouting, men giving orders.”
“After my moments of terror, I realized what was going on…and I thought, Well, you know, there’s no time for horror. You’ve got a job to do. So keep it up. Which I did.”
Now on the verge of turning 97, Scott said D-Day was a “full point” in her life.
As a non-combatant, I was still in the war and understood the enormity of war. People were dying at that moment.”
Scott said she was “disgusted” that another war would break out on the European continent after Russia’s all-out invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
“For me, war should only be waged if it is absolutely necessary, if there is no other way to solve the problem. It is an atrocity. That is how I feel,” she said.
British veteran Mervyn Kirsch, who landed on D-Day on Gold Beach, said the Western allies should send maximum military aid to Ukraine: “The only way to stay free is to be strong.”
Kirsch, 98, added with humor: “I’m still on the reserve, waiting to go to Ukraine right now. Next job.”
On Tuesday, a ceremony was held at the American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, overlooking Omaha Beach, which holds the graves of 9,386 American soldiers, most of whom lost their lives in the D-Day landings and operations that followed. On the walls of the missing, 1557 names are inscribed. Since then, some of those named have been recovered and identified.
Speaking to more than 40 World War II veterans and a crowd of visitors, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said, “It is our duty to defend…the principles for which the Allies fought…we seek a civilian world safe from the ravages of war.” (and) sovereignty and territorial integrity respected.”
He paid tribute to the “brave young men and women of Ukraine who are learning how to fight for their lives and for their country”.
“Today, I am more determined than ever to stand by them as long as it takes,” he said.
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, also participated in the commemoration of the American cemetery.
The Normandy ceremonies were an opportunity for Milly to remain with the forces that saw him as their own, while finishing his four-decade military career. The president held commands in both the 82nd Airborne Division and the 101st Airborne Division, and the Normandy fields, towns, and bridges are considered sacred ground for these divisions.
“For me,” he said, “to be among the soldiers is home.” Milley began his 44th year of military service on June 10. He is due to retire at the end of September as his presidency ends.
There were hundreds of current soldiers from both units, some on leave with beer in hand, some jumping out of planes as their predecessors did 79 years earlier.
This was Milly’s last visit to Normandy as their Commander-in-Chief – and as he walked through Sainte-Mere-Eglise, known as the first city liberated from Nazi occupation, attended memorial football matches or spoke at ceremonies, I felt the general stop to speak and give a commemorative coin for each of them.
An international ceremony was later scheduled at the nearby Normandy British memorial in the presence of officials from Germany and the nine main Allied countries: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Poland, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States. French Armed Forces Minister Sebastien Licorne and British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace are expected to attend.
In a separate event, French President Emmanuel Macron attended a ceremony on Tuesday in the presence of 100-year-old Léon Gauthier, the last surviving member of Kieffer’s commandos – an elite French unit that was among the first waves to land in Normandy.
Many visitors came to the American Cemetery ahead of Tuesday’s ceremony to pay tribute For those who gave their lives.
Jean-Philippe Bertrand, visiting from the southern French city of Marseille, walked past countless rows of white crosses on Monday.
He said, “It is inconceivable that I would make such a sacrifice for my own freedom, for the freedom of my son.”
“You hear about it on the news and you see the pictures. But once you’re here and you see the reality and the sacrifice that’s been made for our beautiful country — I wanted to make the trip once in my life to thank all these people we owe so much to.”
German professor Andreas Fuchs, who teaches French in Berlin, brought 10- to 12-year-old students to Normandy via an exchange programme.
“It is very important for children to take a moment in their lives to understand the liberation of Europe. To know what peace has been for 80 years.
Jeffrey Schaefer, Nicholas Garriga, and Thomas Padilla contributed to the story.
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