WASHINGTON — On June 6, 2014, millions around the world will commemorate the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy, France - a turning point in World War II that changed the course of history. The anniversary revives memories for aging World War II veterans, but also is meaningful for others who were affected directly or indirectly by the war.
At the World War II memorial in Washington, hundreds come every day to pay tribute to the friends and families they lost during the war. Cewin Johnson is among them. Now 89 years old, he was only 19 when he lost his arm fighting in France.
“We were fighting in the village of Oberhofen which was about 20 miles west of Strasbourg and we’ve been in that village three times trying to take the town," he said. "We’ve gotten the Germans all boxed up at the end of the village. Gary heard the tank coming up the street and he sent the artillery in and hit the tank and that’s when I got hit too."
Ninety-two-year-old Frederick Douglass Williams is another veteran. He says the hardest part of going to war was thinking about the loved ones left behind.
“I like what Winston Churchill said: they also served who sit and wait," he said. "Mothers, sweethearts; my poor mother, she went crazy. We knew and expected that but not them. 'Where is my son?'”
For World War II veterans and many others June 6, 1944 - D-Day - will never be forgotten. The Allied landings on Normandy marked the start of France's liberation from Nazi occupation, and ultimately led to Germany's defeat.
“It’s one of the most important military operations ever conducted, probably the largest amphibious assault ever undertaken," said Christopher Yung, author of a book on the planning for D-Day. "It took a great deal of military thinking, ingenuity, perseverance."
The invasion was a crucial turning point.
"It’s the first step in which the Allies were able to get back into the continent," Yung said. "The Germans had erected a gigantic fortress to prevent the allies from returning."
Brigadier General Bruno Caitucoli is the defense attaché at the French embassy in Washington. His 94-year-old father fought in the war.
"What my dad really explained to me so many times is the imporance of being ready to defend what is not really given: which is freedom, democracy, etcetera," he said.
In his office hangs a photo - a reminder of the sacrifice made during World War II.
"This picture shows Omaha Beach, bloody Omaha with the two flags, French and American flags together and about 3,000 human beings forming the letters of: We Will Never Forget, and on top of that, on top of Omaha beach, you have Coleville Cemetery," Caitucoli said.
Many died to make the invasion a success, but their sacrifice paved the way for Nazi Germany's surrender in May 1945.