Written by 07:15 World

D-Day’s 80th Anniversary Might Be the Last for Many WWII Veterans

For many, it will be the last big commemoration. The last reunion.

Eighty years after Allied armies invaded the beaches of Normandy, marking a definitive turning point in World War II, those veterans who are still alive and sound enough are expected to return to France this week from the United States, Britain and Canada to commemorate the moment — gingerly, slowly, happily.

They number less than 200. Their average age is about 100.

As some of the veterans arrived on Monday, descending from a hulking 767 onto the tarmac of the small Deauville airport — sometimes helped by multiple aides — many of those there to greet them grew teary in between their bursts of applause.

For a place saturated in the history of that grand landing, when some 156,000 Allied soldiers arrived on the coast and began to push the occupying Germans out of Normandy and then out of the rest of France, there is a deep sense of nostalgia.

“It’s very emotional,” said the airport director, Maryline Haize-Hagron, who like most Normandy natives, has an intimate story of D-Day. Her grandfather Henri Desmet, after watching American parachutists land in the marshes near his farm on June 6, used his flat-bottom boat to row dozens to dry land so they could continue fighting.

“It’s such an honor to be able to welcome them back,” she said.

Mr. Desmet, like most witnesses, is dead now. And this anniversary comes at a time that feels darkly critical — there is a war in Europe, far-right movements are gaining ground across the continent, there is a shifting politics of anger.

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Last modified: 5 June 2024
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