Juno Beach in France is calm now, with a lone ship miles off the coast.
But there were men in the audience who remembered a very different beach — one clogged with men and vehicles, with ships steaming off the coast, some firing on German positions and others carrying thousands of Canadian combat troops. They remembered being sure that the thousands of planes that flew over that beach on June 6, 1944, were there to protect them.
They also remembered those men who pushed to the beach with them, who didn’t go home, who paid the last full measure of devotion.
The men who remembered D-Day came back to Normandy — to Juno, Gold and Sword beaches, where Canadian and British soldiers assaulted Hitler’s Atlantic Wall, and to Omaha and Utah beaches, where Americans took the fight to the Nazis. They also visited drop zones where American and British airborne troopers were supposed to land in the night jump beginning Operation Overlord.
It is the 75th anniversary of the invasion, and the youngest Allied veterans of that day are now in their mid-90s. But it is something none of them can forget.
”I can’t remember what I had for breakfast this morning, but I remember D-Day clearly,” said an English veteran at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery in Bayeux, France. The man had jumped out of his landing craft and was headed onto the beach when he was wounded. Seventy-five years later, he said he still feels guilty about not being able to help his friends.
Royal Navy veteran Frank Baugh was a signalman aboard an American-built infantry landing craft. The flat-bottomed ship was about 150 feet long and 25 feet wide. It was not the most pleasant craft to sail in, he said. His craft pushed in to Sword Beach and received a direct hit. The troops had to leave the ship by the side ramps under machine gun fire. His memory, he said, was ”of the men who were hit and floating face down in the water.”
”There was no way to reach them or help them and we had been speaking with them minutes before,” he said. ”That’s my memory and I will never lose it.”
Wherever these men went in Normandy, they received applause. ”Oh thank you,” one D-Day veteran said from his wheelchair to a group that was clapping for him in Bayeux. ”You are too kind.” He admitted a bit later that he was pleased people remembered.
Many of the speakers at the various ceremonies spoke of the sacrifices made by thousands on the beaches of Normandy. They said the world learned something from that and the great alliances that guarded peace for the last 75 years grew from that wartime experience. In his speech at Omaha Beach — where thousands of Americans died — President Donald J. Trump touched on this. ”To all of our friends and partners: Our cherished alliance was forged in the heat of battle, tested in the trials of war, and proven in the blessings of peace,” he said. ”Our bond is unbreakable.”
The veterans of D-Day want people to know what they went through so it never happens again. They want the world to remember the people who sacrificed for them.
At every British service, a D-Day veteran recited Laurence Binyan’s Ode to Remembrance.
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”