D-Day 70th Anniversary: In Many Ways a Farewell to ‘The Greatest Generation’

Ceremonies in Europe and the US are likely to be the final to include large numbers of survivors of the historic invasion.

By Paul Aranda, EGP Staff Writer

World leaders will gather tomorrow in Normandy, France to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the single largest amphibious assault in military history. On June 6, 1944 at 6:30 a.m., over 160,000 allied troops landed on the 50-mile stretch of heavily-fortified French coastline. Over 9,000 allied soldiers were killed or wounded during the battle against Nazi Germany.

By the end of that long day, allied troops had gained a foothold in Normandy, clearing the way for over 100,000 soldiers to begin the march across Europe, which paved the way to the end of World War II.

This year’s 70th anniversary is expected to hold more significance since it is expected to be the final ceremony to take place in the presence of veterans who fought in the war and earned the title “the greatest generation.” Veterans who took part in the historic event and are still alive, would now be in their late 80s or older.

President Barack Obama and French President Francoise Hollande will attend the Binational Ceremonies at the American military cemetery in Colleville-sur-mer, located close to Omaha Beach and where approximately 9,387 American soldiers who died in Europe during World War II are buried. Today, France begins a three-month-long celebration that concludes Aug. 21, 2014, the day France was liberated from Nazi Germany. Queen Elizabeth II of Britain, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin will join a total of 17 world leaders expected to be in attendance.

Meanwhile, back at home in the nation’s capital, thousands of veterans are expected to attend a special ceremony at the National World War II Memorial. Representatives from each of the allied nations that took part in the Normandy campaign will gather at the 11:00 a.m. ceremony to lay wreaths at the Freedom Wall of the memorial. Craig Symonds, renowned historian and author of the upcoming book, “Neptune: The Allied Invasion of Europe and the D-Day Landings,” will serve as the event’s host and expert historian.

The D-Day 70th Anniversary Commemoration is jointly hosted by the Friends of the National World War II Memorial and the National Park Service.  Two-hundred miles south of the capitol, a special ceremony will take place at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia. The Bedford Boys “Homage” sculptures by the late artist, Jim Brothers, will be dedicated. According to the National D-Day Memorial Web site, Bedford, Virginia was chosen by Congress to host the national D-Day memorial in honor of the 19 soldiers from the local National Guard’s 116th Infantry Regiment, Company A, based in Bedford, who were killed during the D-Day invasion. Two more soldiers were killed later in the Normandy campaign along with two more soldiers assigned to other 116th Infantry companies. Bedford’s population in 1944 was 3,200. Proportionally, the town of Bedford suffered the nation’s severest loss of life on D-Day.

On Saturday, June 7th, the Consulate General of France in Los Angeles and the U.S. Merchant Marine Veterans of World War II will honor the D-Day anniversary at Berth 49 in San Pedro aboard the SS. Lane Victory. The event will feature a fly over of vintage aircraft and full display of military vehicles and equipment. As part of an ongoing effort by the French government since 2004, all living honorably discharged WWII veterans who can provide proof of service in France are eligible for the French Legion of Honor, France’s highest award for military service.

Living veterans must submit their records to the nearest French Consulate. For veterans in Los Angeles, the nearest consulate is located at 10390 Santa Monica Blvd, Suite 410, Los Angeles, CA 90025. A full description of the required documents and mailing procedures are available at http://ambafrance-us.org.

 

 

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June 5, 2014  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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