Aleteia

D-Day anniversary, in year of pandemic, sees few on hand to remember

Higgins Boat Monument, Utah beach, Saint-Martin-de-Varreville
MANUEL COHEN | AFP
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Those remembering key battle of World War II now fight invisible enemy.

What a difference a year makes.

In June 2019, Normandy, France, was abuzz with reenactors driving World War II-era jeeps, parachutists who had jumped out of vintage C-47s, locals who kept up the tradition of commemorating the GIs who had fallen, and most importantly, the few remaining veterans who had taken part in Operation Overlord, the largest seaborne invasion in history, which gave the Allies a toehold in their fight against Hitler.

President Donald J. Trump joined French President Emmanuel Macron at the American cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach, for the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

This year, a month after the world marked the 75th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany and two months before the anniversary of the victory over Japan in the Pacific, a different enemy — an invisible one — has kept most people away from the blood-stained beaches and hallowed resting places of Normandy.

As the Guardian reported, because of the coronavirus pandemic, for the first time in 75 years, there will be no D-day veterans on the beaches to mark the anniversary on Saturday.

“Official commemorations have been cancelled except for a limited gathering of representatives from nine countries for a short ceremony,” said the British newspaper.

And, of course, the veterans are now in their 90s or older, members of the Greatest Generation but part of a demographic that has been widely recognized as most vulnerable to COVID-19.

Saturday’s anniversary will be one of the loneliest remembrances ever, as the coronavirus pandemic is keeping almost everyone away — from government leaders to frail veterans who might not get another chance for a final farewell to their unlucky comrades,” ABC News summed up.

“I miss the others,” said Charles Shay, who as a U.S. Army medic was in the first wave of soldiers to wade ashore at Omaha Beach under relentless fire on D-Day.

Shay, 95, lives in France close to the beach where he and so many others landed in 1944. He knows of no U.S. veterans making the trip overseas to observe D-Day this year.

“I guess I will be alone here this year,” Shay said before he performed a Native American ritual to honor his comrades by spreading the smoke of burning white sage into the winds lashing the Normandy coast Friday.

Also remembering the dead was David Pottier, mayor of Mosles, which was liberated by allied troops the day after the landing on five Normandy beachheads. “We have to recognize that they came to die in a foreign land,” Pottier told ABC as he raised American and French flags. “We miss the GIs.”

Operation Overlord involved 150,000 troops landing at strategic points along 50 miles of France’s northwest coastline. The hail of machine gun fire and bombardments that awaited them left 2,500 dead and thousands more wounded.

The coronavirus has claimed more than 29,000 lives in France and led to a ban of gathering of more than 10 persons.

“In villages up and down the Normandy coast, residents were invited to decorate their homes with allied flags, and church bells will ring at 6:44 p.m. on Saturday,” the Guardian said.

In a statement obtained by Aleteia, Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for Military Services USA said, “It is good to remember that many nations participated in the D-Day invasion. Particularly, the U.S. forces were composed of men of different races, national origins, religious creeds, and so forth. In this time of tension, we ask Almighty God that their sacrifice not be in vain. We beg Him to transform our most earnest longings into a force for peace and understanding, to teach us to see every person as brother or sister whose Father is our God. We pray for the ability to negotiate, to talk, and to listen. We pray to remain vigilant against the forces of evil in our troubled world, and to pour our energies into building lasting peace and justice among nations.”

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