News / Europe

D-Day Vets Return to Normandy for 70th Anniversary

D-Day Vets Return to Normandy for 70th Anniversaryi
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Henry Ridgwell
June 05, 2014 1:25 AM
World leaders are due to attend ceremonies in Normandy Friday to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings. Around 160,000 Allied troops crossed the English Channel on June 6, 1944 to Nazi-occupied France. It was the biggest ever invasion fleet, and it helped secure an Allied victory. As Henry Ridgwell reports from Normandy, this year’s anniversary is particularly poignant for the veterans.
Henry Ridgwell
World leaders are due to attend ceremonies in Normandy Friday to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings. Around 160,000 Allied troops crossed the English Channel on June 6, 1944 to Nazi-occupied France - the biggest ever invasion fleet, which would help secure an Allied victory.

On board a passenger ferry bound for Normandy, 98-year-old Tony Pyatt is making the same journey he took 70 years ago across the English Channel.

Then, he was lieutenant in the 1st Royal Tank Regiment and part of the biggest seaborne invasion ever launched. Seven thousand vessels set sail from Britain on June 6, 1944 to take back Nazi-occupied France.

“I sat on the deck of this Liberty ship, reading a book without a care in the world - except that a few bombers were coming over from German planes, which did not hit us," Pyatt said.

It is difficult to recall. I was not frightened. But, on the other hand I was not doing any heroics either. We just had to accept it,” he said.

In the eyes of many, Europe owes its freedom to veterans like Pyatt. Archive news reports from that day capture the hope and expectation for the D-Day invasion.

“In the high spirits of free men launched on the grandest of all crusades, the trained soldiers of democracy left the shores of England. For all who had so long awaited the event, this was indeed an hour of triumph,” reads one.

Within 12 months of the 160,000 Allied troops wading ashore in Normandy, Nazi Germany was on its knees.

“We used to sleep in holes in the ground or we used to sleep inside the tanks sometimes. As signals officer, I had a jeep and I used that jeep all the way from Arromanches to Berlin,” Pyatt said.

Further west, U.S. forces took command of the Utah and Omaha beaches.  Thousands of young men waded onshore from landing craft amid a storm of German artillery and gunfire.

For the generations that followed, those images are seared in the mind through history books and movies. For the veterans, a return to Normandy brings back vivid personal memories.

George Shenkle, 92, was a Communications Corporal in the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division. On D-Day he jumped into Normandy with the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment. He has returned to visit the U.S. Cemetery above Omaha beach.

“I will never forget the words of [then U.S. President] Dwight Eisenhower, ‘The eyes of the world are on you’. Now even today this makes shivers run up and down my spine.”

Bill Byers, from Oklahoma, is making his first trip back to Normandy since coming ashore in 1944 with the 300th Combat Engineers. He has come to the cemetery to pay his respects to a friend, Clifford Alexander, who did not survive the assault.

Alexander was aboard a ship sunk by enemy fire off Omaha Beach. His body was never recovered.

“To me it is just something that happened, you know. And we have never talked about it. I did see his wife, and told her what had happened. And she said ‘Well he is still alive somewhere.’ She would not take the hint that he was gone,” said Byers.

Six-thousand Americans lost their lives that day, alongside 4,300 British and Canadian soldiers. German losses are estimated at up to 9,000.

Most of the veterans are now in their ninth decade or older. Many say this will be their final visit to the beaches that still bear the scars of war; to the battlefields where so many of their comrades fell.

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by: Barbara Plunkett Turner from: Chesterfield, VA
June 06, 2014 9:45 PM
Our family - the Plunketts and all relations by marriage, etc. had a total of 56 who served during WWII - some were Heroes with many medals, some were POW's, 2 actually met the Russian soldiers, 14 were in Europe including my father's brother who lost over 1/2 his battalion and his best friend there and was also at Omaha and Italy.My Uncle Adair was in the U.S. Navy during that time. RIP to ALL of my father's family who served and fought Normandy, they fought in: Italy, Battle of the Bulge, one was a Co-Pilot and shot down over Hamburg, Germany and POW at Stalag Luft III (the prison that was portrayed in the great movie "THE GREAT ESCAPE") until they were liberated by Russian Forces in April 1945 & several liberated the Jewish camps, many family members were actual decorated heroes. Several served under General Patton and General MacArthur in Europe. We had quite a few WACs and others who served in all branches of WWII to help gain our freedoms from Hitler's Nazi-ism oppression. My great-cousin Gloria on my Mother's side was a Rosie the Riveter Supervisor. I also want to pay tribute especially to 5 who were at Pearl Harbor and all the many others during WWII in ALL the countries where they served. 2 perished on the USS Arizona - the Murdocks. MAY THEY ALL NEVER BE FORGOTTEN. RIP Daddy, Semper Fi, Korea, Okinawa and Philippines. WITHOUT THESE BRAVE MEN AND WOMEN - OUR WORLD WOULD NOT BE WHAT IT IS TODAY! We must teach our children to be grateful and NEVER ever forget!

by: Barbara Plunkett Turner from: Chesterfield, VA
June 06, 2014 10:08 AM
Our family - the Plunketts and all relations by marriage, etc. had a total of 56 who served during WWII - some were Heroes with many medals, some were POW's, 2 actually met the Russian soldiers, 14 were in Europe including my father's brother who lost over 1/2 his battalion and his best friend there and was also at Omaha and Italy.My Uncle Adair was in the U.S. Navy during that time. RIP to ALL of my father's family who served and fought Normandy, they fought in: Italy, Battle of the Bulge, one was a Co-Pilot and shot down over Hamburg, Germany and POW at Stalag Luft III (the prison that was portrayed in the great movie "THE GREAT ESCAPE") until they were liberated by Russian Forces in April 1945 & several liberated the Jewish camps, many family members were actual decorated heroes.

Several served under General Patton and General MacArthur in Europe. We had quite a few WACs and others who served in all branches of WWII to help gain our freedoms from Hitler's Nazi-ism oppression. My great-cousin Gloria on my Mother's side was a Rosie the Riveter Supervisor. I also want to pay tribute especially to 5 who were at Pearl Harbor and all the many others during WWII in ALL the countries where they served. 2 perished on the USS Arizona - the Murdocks. MAY THEY ALL NEVER BE FORGOTTEN. RIP Daddy, Semper Fi, Korea, Okinawa and Philippines. WITHOUT THESE BRAVE MEN AND WOMEN - OUR WORLD WOULD NOT BE WHAT IT IS TODAY! We must teach our children to be grateful and NEVER ever forget!

by: Joanne Maio from: Cocoa Beach, Florida
June 06, 2014 8:08 AM
Naval Capt. John Philip Cummer, who is also my 89-year-old father, is attending the ceremony in Normandy today. He was a teenage gunner's mate on a ship that landed at Gold Beach. The night before the invasion, my dad sat up all night reading the Bible. The next day, he felt no fear...even after he saw a sailor blown up before his eyes. I love you, Daddy, and I'm so, so proud of you and thankful!

by: Mark from: Virginia
June 05, 2014 8:22 PM
I salute you, Old Soldiers, I stand and salute you.

Today, most people know only of your deeds from history books and the creative license bestowed upon those events in movies, filled with special effects. You lived it, braved it, faced it and endured while so many of your friends and comrades did not.
Thank you, Brothers, from one (much younger) Veteran to another.

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