Servicemembers mark 74th anniversary of D-Day landings in lead-up to next year’s big event
By DAN STOUTAMIRE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 5, 2018
VIERVILLE, France — Hundreds of U.S. servicemembers and thousands of well-wishers are gathered in Normandy for the 74th anniversary of the 1944 D-Day landings along five beaches in northern France.
This year’s gathering has seen a wide range of events, which have run for more than a week on both sides of the June 6 anniversary.
On Sunday, an airborne drop featuring nearly 600 soldiers from five countries marked the landings of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions near Utah Beach.
On Wednesday, nearly 300 current U.S. servicemembers from 20 units based in Europe and the United States will participate in events in 36 French communities near the landing sites, including Sainte-Mere-Eglise, Carentan and Picauville.
Soldiers from the 90th Sustainment Brigade, 4th Infantry Division and 82nd Airborne Division will mark the date in a ceremony on Utah Beach, while members of the 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions are set to take part in commemorations on and near Omaha Beach, close to their divisions’ respective memorials.
James Martin and Theresa Werner are period re-enactors working with the Spirit of ‘45, a nonprofit group dedicated to preserving the close-knit spirit of the U.S. homefront during World War II. They say the best part of being in Normandy is meeting D-Day veterans.
“They’re amazing and they all have great stories,” Werner said. “They’re treated like rock stars here; there are always crowds around them. They always have a great sense of humor as well, they say, ‘My first trip to Normandy I didn’t even need a passport!’”
Martin and Werner took part in a wreath-laying ceremony Monday at the Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-Sur-Mer, attended by eight U.S. veterans.
“The emotions span the gamut,” Martin said. “We go from super solemn to super high when we see the veterans laughing and making others laugh.”
This year’s events are smaller compared to those expected for the 75th anniversary next year, which will probably feature visits from several heads of state.
“It will be the last major anniversary that many veterans will be able to get to,” said Tim Gray, founder of the documentary nonprofit World War II Foundation. “You had a lot of guys who made the 50th and much fewer who can be here for the 75th. It’s a chance to say goodbye, really, to these veterans for all the people who will be here.”
After the main international commemoration on Sword Beach Wednesday afternoon, preparations will begin for next year.
“I think this is the calm before the storm,” U.S. Army Europe Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Abernethy said. “(Next year) is going to be huge.”