RANVILLE (France) -- Sunday's gathering of more than 20 British World War II veterans was near Pegasus Bridge, northwestern France. This bridge is one of the first liberated by Allied forces against Nazi Germany. It serves as a memorial to the almost 160,000 soldiers from Britain, Canada, and the United States who landed in Normandy, June 6, 1944.
Veteran families, French and international visitors braved the rain to attend a series of events this weekend as well as Monday's 78th anniversary celebration of D-Day.
After two years of COVID-19's pandemic that severely restricted or stopped visitors to the country, this year's D-Day anniversary is significant. Many felt that the celebrations to honor those who helped bring peace and freedom to the continent had a special meaning in this year's war-torn Europe, since the invasion of Ukraine by Russia on February 24th.
Several hundred veterans from the United States were also present at events in the area, just before Monday's ceremony at Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. This is where you will find the graves of the 9,386 soldiers who died in combat on D-Day and the subsequent operations.
Peter Smoothy (97) served in the British Royal Navy. He landed on Normandy's beaches on D-Day.
He told The Associated Press that the first thing he remembers are the poor lads who never came back... It was a long time ago, almost 80 years ago... And here are we still living." "We think about all the poor lads who didn’t make it to the beach on that last day. But they’re always in our thoughts."
British veterans were greeted by the sounds of bagpipes at Ranville's Pegasus Memorial. This ceremony was to commemorate a crucial operation that took place in the first minutes after the Allies invaded Normandy. It involved the control of a strategically important bridge.
Bill Gladden (98) was a part of the D-Day British airborne operations and was later killed while protecting the bridge.
"I landed at D-Day, and I was severely injured on the 18th June. He said that he was now three years in the hospital.
Mary Scott, 17, was listening to the codes coming from the frontline and passing them along as part of operations on Utah and Omaha, Gold and Juno.
She recalled that "the war was in my ears" and described the radio machine she used via levers.
"When they (communication officers), had to reply to my messages, and they raised their lever, they could be heard making all the sounds of men on the beaches: machine guns, bombs, shouting, screaming.
Scott, who will be turning 96 soon, stated that she was very emotional when she arrived in Normandy on Saturday for a trip organized and sponsored by Taxi Charity for Military Veterans. Scott was moved to tears by the sight of D-Day beaches.
She said, "Suddenly, I thought maybe some young men I talked to...that they had died."
This symbol is stronger than ever as Queen Elizabeth II, who was an army driver and mechanic in World War II, celebrates her 70th year on the throne.
"Women were involved," Scott stressed. Scott stated, "I mean I'm tremendously proud to have been part of Operation Overlord."
Scott's expression changed to sadness after she mentioned the war on Ukraine.
"Why can't past experiences be used to teach us?" What's wrong with us? "What's the problem with us?" She asked. "War should teach us something, but it never penetrates very long."
This year, many people came to pay their respects to the soldiers and to see the monuments that mark the pivotal moments of the war. On the narrow roads of Normandy, World War II history enthusiasts wore wartime uniforms.
He said, "I took a minute to just hold the Sand and you think, gosh! the blood that was shed to give me that moment" It was very emotional for me.
Jensen stated, particularly when he thought of the fighting in Ukraine, that "I hope a lot if this younger generation is looking because we can't remember what happened 78 year ago."
Andy Hamilton, a retired police officer aged 57, went on holiday with his family including his grandsons (8-years-old) from Shropshire, England.
He said, "We are now paying our respects to the sites and giving the grandchildren an idea of World War II... and how many people have sacrificed their lives for freedom for everyone."
D-Day was the day that Allied troops landed at the beaches code-named Omaha (Utah), Juno, Sword and Gold) and were carried by 7,000 boats. In that one day, 4,414 Allied soldiers died, 2501 of which were Americans. More than 5,000 soldiers were also wounded. Several thousand were wounded or killed on the German side.