ON OMAHA BEACH, France — An overwhelming sound of gunfire and men’s screams. That’s how World War II veteran Marie Scott described D-Day as ceremonies were to honor those who fought for freedom in the largest naval, air and land operation in history.
On Tuesday, the whistling sound of the wind accompanied many reenactors who came at dawn on Omaha Beach to mark the 79th anniversary of the assault that led to the liberation of France and Western Europe from Nazi control. Some brought a bunch of flowers, others waved American flags.
Scott lived it all through her ears. She was just 17 when she was posted as communication operator in Portsmouth, Britain. Her job was to pass on messages between men on the ground and Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower and senior officers who were supervising the operation.
“I was in the war. I could hear gunfire, machine guns, bombing aircraft, men screaming, shouting, men giving orders,” she recalled.
“After a few moments of horror, I realised what was happening … and I thought, well, you know, there’s no time for horror. You’ve got a job to do. So get on with it. Which is what I did.”
Now about to turn 97, Scott said D-Day was a “pivotal point” in her life.
“As a noncombatant, I was still in the war and I realized the enormity of war. People were dying in that moment.”
On Tuesday, a ceremony was to be held at the American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, overlooking Omaha Beach, which is home to the graves of 9,386 United States soldiers, most of whom lost their lives in the D-Day landings and ensuing operations. On the Walls of the Missing are inscribed 1,557 names some of them who have since been recovered and identified.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff chair Gen. Mark Milley were to take part in the commemoration alongside WWII veterans.
An international ceremony was later scheduled at the nearby British Normandy Memorial in the presence of officials from Germany and the nine principal Allied nations: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Poland, Norway and the U.S. French Minister of Armed Forces Sébastien Lecornu and British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace were expected to attend.
Many visitors came to the American Cemetery ahead of Tuesday’s ceremonies to pay tribute to those who sacrificed their lives.
Jean-Philippe Bertrand, a visitor from the French southern city of Marseille, walked through the countless lines of white crosses Monday. “It’s unimaginable to do such a sacrifice for my freedom, for my son’s freedom,” he said.
“You hear about it on the news and you see the pictures. But once you’re here and you see the reality and the sacrifice that has been made for our beautiful country — I wanted to make the trip once in my life to thank all these people to whom we owe so much,” he added.
German professor Andreas Fuchs, who is teaching French in Berlin, brought students ages 10 to 12 to Normandy via an exchange program.
“It’s very important for children to have a moment in their lives to understand the liberation of Europe. And to know what peace has been for 80 years,” he said.
Jeffrey Schaeffer, Nicolas Garriga and Thomas Padilla contributed to the story.
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