For commemorations of the more than 160,000 soldiers from Britain, Canada, and the United States who landed at Normandy on 6 June 1944, more than 20 British World War II veterans gathered in Pegasus Bridge, northwestern France, Sunday.
Veteran families, French and international visitors braved the rain to attend a series of events this weekend as well as Monday's 78th anniversary celebrations 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 gravesites for 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, then 17, was on the British side, working in the communications center at Portsmouth. She 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 that 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.