OMAHA BEACH, FRANCE (AP) — A loud noise of gunfire and men’s screams. World War II veteran Mary Scott described D-Day as: For freedom in the largest naval, air and land operations in history.
This year’s tribute to the young soldiers who died in Normandy reminds veterans, officials and visitors alike of the experiences Ukraine faces today..
On Tuesday, wind whistles accompanied scores of reenactors who arrived at Omaha Beach at dawn to mark the 79th anniversary of the attack. This led to the liberation of France and Western Europe from Nazi control. Some brought flowers; Others waved American flags.
Scott lived it all through her ears. He was 17 when he was assigned as a communications operator in Portsmouth, England.For the men on the ground, General Dwight D. Her job was to pass messages between Eisenhower and the senior officials overseeing the operation.
“I was at war. I could hear gunfire, machine guns, bombers, men screaming, yelling, men giving orders,” he recalled.
“After some time of horror, I realized what was going on … and thought you know there’s no time for horror. You’ve got a job to do. So get on with it. That’s what I did.”
Now about to turn 97, Scott said D-Day was a “tipping point” in his life.
“As a non-combatant, I was still in the war and felt the enormity of the war. People were dying at that time.
Scott said he was “disgusted” that another war was now brewing on the European continent following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
“For me, war should only be undertaken if there is no other way to solve the problem, if it is absolutely (necessary). It is cruel. That’s how I feel,” she said.
Mervyn Gersh, a British veteran who landed on D-Day at Gold Beach, said Western allies should send maximum military aid to Ukraine: “The only way to be free is to be strong.”
Gersh, 98, added with a sense of humor: “I’m still in reserve, waiting to go to Ukraine now. Next job.”
On Tuesday, a ceremony took place at the American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, which overlooks Omaha Beach and contains the graves of 9,386 American soldiers, most of whom lost their lives during the D-Day landings and subsequent operations. 1,557 names of the missing are inscribed on the walls. Some of those named have been recovered and identified.
Speaking before a crowd of more than 40 World War II veterans and spectators, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said, “It is our duty to defend the principles for which the Allies fought … We seek a world in which civilians are safe from the ravages of war, (and) sovereignty and territorial integrity are respected.”
“Brave young men and women from Ukraine are learning how to fight for their lives and their country,” he paid tribute.
“Today, I am more determined than ever to stand with them as long as possible,” he said.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley also participated in the American Cemetery commemoration.
The Normandy celebrations were a chance for Millie to stay with the troops who considered her one of their own as she ended her four-decade military career. The leader held command of both the 82nd Airborne Division and the 101st Airborne Division, and the fields, cities and causeways of Normandy were the hallowed ground of these divisions.
“For me, being among players is home,” he said. Millie begins her 44th year of military service on June 10. He is set to retire at the end of September as his term as chairman comes to an end.
Hundreds of current players from both divisions were there, some vacationing with beers in hand, some jumping out of planes just like their predecessors 79 years ago.
It was Millie’s last visit to Normandy as her commander-in-chief, as she walked through Sainte-Maré-Église, known as the first city to be liberated from Nazi occupation, attended commemorative football games or spoke at ceremonies. Give each of them a commemorative coin and speak.
An international ceremony was later planned at the nearby British Normandy Memorial, attended by officials from Germany and nine major allies: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Poland, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States. French Armed Forces Minister Sébastien Lecornu and UK 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 Leon Gauthier, the last member of the Kiefer commando – one of the first waves to land in Normandy.
Many visitors came to the American Cemetery to pay their respects before Tuesday’s ceremonies To those who sacrificed their lives.
Jean-Philippe Bertrand, from the southern French city of Marseille, walked past countless white crosses on Monday.
“Sacrifice so much for my freedom and my son’s freedom is unthinkable,” he said.
“You hear about it on the news, you see the pictures. But once you come here, once you see the reality and the sacrifices made for our beautiful country – I wanted to travel once in my life to thank all these people to whom we owe so much,” he added.
Andreas Fuchs, a German professor who teaches French in Berlin, brought 10- to 12-year-old students to Normandy through an exchange program.
“It is very important for children to have a moment in their lives to understand the liberation of Europe and to know what 80 years of peace is,” he said.
Jeffrey Schaeffer, Nicolas Garriga and Thomas Padilla contributed to the story.