News / Europe

D-Day Vets Return to Normandy for 70th Anniversary

D-Day Vets Return to Normandy for 70th Anniversaryi
X
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.

You May Like

Nigeria Incumbent in Tight Spot as Poll Nears

Muhammadu Buhari is running a strong challenge to Goodluck Jonathan, amid a faltering economy and Boko Haram security worries More

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo tells VOA that despite her fame, life is still a struggle as she waits for government's promise of support to arrive More

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

At least seven different indigenous groups in Ratanakiri depend mainly on forest products for their survival, say they face loss of their land, traditional way of life More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
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.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More