Navy commemorates D-Day invasion in Va. Beach
By Dianna Cahn | The Virginian-Pilot | Published: June 7, 2014
VIRGINIA BEACH — The landing crafts churned to shore Friday as the words of President Franklin D. Roosevelt were read aloud: "We will accept nothing less than full victory."
Those words from history mingled with the wind over the sand at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek, at a ceremony commemorating this day 70 years ago when Allied forces stormed a beach 3,800 miles away in France and turned the tide of history.
As the generation that invaded Normandy passes on, young soldiers and sailors watching their own boats come to shore Friday said the legacy of those heroes remains.
"The lessons of it still exist today," said Army Spc. John Tassin from the 11th Transportation Battalion at Fort Story. "Personal courage - they were up against a force that they didn't even know if they would come out alive."
A lot of Americans are disconnected from the current wars, said 1st Lt. Wallace Risen, 32, another soldier from the 11th Transportation Battalion. "They forgot the sacrifices other generations made to make sure we can do what we do every day."
The D-Day invasion was the largest the world had ever seen. It involved 150,000 forces from several nations, mostly the United States, Britain and Canada, as well as 745 ships and 11,000 aircraft. Nearly 10,000 men were wounded and 4,000 were killed.
It was the only option the allies had to stem Adolf Hitler's march across Europe.
"There was no plan B," Royal Navy Cmdr. Laine Whyte told those gathered.
As he spoke, the sound of bagpipes - barely discernible through the roar of the wind and waves - made its way across the beach.
Two bagpipers in kilts soon emerged from behind a dune, leading several dozen soldiers along the sands.
It was like that at Normandy too, Whyte said. On June 6, 1944, one Scottish bagpiper defied orders banning bagpipes on the front lines. He braved mortar shells and sniper fire to escort British commandos onto the pages of D-Day history.
One of Friday's bagpipers was Chief Petty Officer Brian Levens, an Iraq War veteran whose grandfather was among the troops at Normandy.
Levens took up the bagpipes a few years ago to honor family members lost on Sept. 11, 2001. He heard the pipes at the funeral of his uncle, a New Jersey firefighter who was at the World Trade Center that morning and stayed to help after the planes struck. He never came home.
"I am here to honor the ones who have gone before and represent the ones that are here now," Levens said.
In the audience, Lt. Brendan Kasony, 29, also from the 11th Transportation Battalion, remains in awe of the Normandy invasion.
"Normandy was one of the most outstanding military operations in the history of military art," he said. "If not for this invasion, the Germans would have won."
Barefoot in the sand, Rebekah O'Dell ran after her three young children. Their father, Forrest, is a sailor who drove one of the small boats in Friday's re-enactment. She brought the children to the ceremony, hoping to teach them.
"They need to know all the sacrifices and hopefully they'll understand that their dad is a hero in my eyes," she said. "Hopefully, he will be in theirs, too."