Battlefield V

2021-06-08

¡¡¡¡CARENTAN, France — In a small Normandy town near where paratroopers landed in the early hours of D-Day, applause broke the silence to honor Charles Shay. He was the only veteran attending a ceremony in Carentan commemorating the 77th anniversary of the assault that helped bring an end to World War II.

¡¡¡¡[Video not showing up above? Click here to watch ? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7OQxYs9gw5k]

¡¡¡¡Amid the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s D-Day commemorations are taking place with travel restrictions that have prevented veterans or families of fallen soldiers from the U.S., Britain and other allied countries from making the trip to France. Only a few officials were allowed exceptions.

¡¡¡¡Shay, who now lives in Normandy, was a 19-year-old U.S. Army medic when he landed on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. Today, he recalls the “many good friends” he lost on the battlefield.

¡¡¡¡Under a bright sun, the 96-year-old American Indian from Indian Island, Maine, stood steadily while the hymns of the Allied countries were played Friday in front of the monument commemorating the battle for Carentan that allowed the Allies to establish a continuous front joining nearby Utah Beach to Omaha Beach.

¡¡¡¡Shay regretted that the pandemic “is interrupting everything.” He is expected to be the only veteran at today’s anniversary day ceremony at the Normandy American Cemetery of Colleville-sur-Mer.

¡¡¡¡”We have no visitors coming to France this year for two years now. And I hope it will be over soon,” he said.

¡¡¡¡Shay’s lone presence is all the more poignant as the number of survivors of the epochal battle dwindles. Only one veteran now remains from the French commando unit that joined U.S, British, Canadian and other allied troops in storming Normandy’s code-named beaches.

¡¡¡¡While France is planning to open up to vaccinated visitors starting this week, that comes too late for the D-Day anniversary. So for a second year, most public commemorations have been canceled. A few solemn ceremonies have been maintained, with dignitaries and just a few guests.

¡¡¡¡French citizens, however, are coming in greater numbers than last year, as the country started lifting its internal virus restrictions last month.

¡¡¡¡Some French and a few other World War II history enthusiasts from neighboring European countries gathered in Normandy.

¡¡¡¡Driving restored jeeps, dressed in old uniforms or joyfully eating on the newly reopened terraces of restaurants, they’re contributing to revive the commemorations’ special atmosphere — and keeping alive the memory of June 6, 1944.

¡¡¡¡”In France, people who remember these men, they kept them close to their heart,” Shay said. “And they remember what they did for them. And I don’t think the French people will ever forget.”

¡¡¡¡On Saturday morning, people in dozens of World War II vehicles, from motorcycles to jeeps and trucks, gathered in a field in Colleville-Montgomery to parade down the nearby roads along Sword Beach to the sounds of a pipe band. Residents, some waving French and American flags, came to watch.

¡¡¡¡Sitting in an old sidecar, Audrey Ergas, dressed in a vintage uniform including an aviator hat and glasses, came from the southern city of Marseille.

¡¡¡¡Gallery: Normandy remembers D-Day

¡¡¡¡[Gallery not loading above? Click here for more photos ? arkansasonline.com/66dday21/]

¡¡¡¡”We absolutely wanted to come … it’s great pleasure, we needed it!” she said. “We were afraid that we might feel a bit alone, but in the end we were happy to do even small gatherings.”

¡¡¡¡Pascal Leclerc, a member of the Remember Omaha Beach 44 group, shared the same joy.

¡¡¡¡”We missed it a lot. That’s just fun, happiness and also being able to pay tribute to all the veterans. That’s the main goal,” he said.

¡¡¡¡Henri-Jean Renaud, 86, remembers D-Day like it was yesterday. He was a young boy and was hidden in his family home in Sainte-Mere-Eglise when more than 800 planes bringing U.S. paratroopers flew over the town while German soldiers fired at them with machine guns.

¡¡¡¡Describing an “incredible noise” followed by silence, he remembers crossing the town’s central square the morning of June 6. He especially recalls seeing one dead U.S. paratrooper stuck in a big tree that is still standing by the town’s church.

¡¡¡¡”I came here hundreds of times. The first thing I do is look at that tree,” he said. “That’s always to that young guy that I’m thinking of. He was told: ‘You’re going to jump in the middle of the night in a country you don’t know’… He died and his feet never touched (French) soil, and that is very moving to me.”

¡¡¡¡More than 12,000 soldiers were buried temporarily in Sainte-Mere-Eglise during and after the Battle of Normandy, before being moved to their final resting place.

¡¡¡¡In the years after the war, local people were allowed to go to the cemeteries. “Often, people had adopted a grave because they had seen a name they liked. … They were a bit like friends,” Renaud said.

¡¡¡¡”Some, especially at the beginning when there were no coffins yet, had been buried in the ground. They had become the Normandy soil,” he added, in a voice filled with emotion.

¡¡¡¡Henri-Jean Renaud, 86, poses outside the church in Sainte-Mere-Eglise, Normandy, Friday, June 4, 2021. Henri-Jean Renaud, 86, remembers D-Day like it was yesterday. He was a young boy and was hidden in his family home in Sainte-Mere-Eglise when more than 800 planes bringing U.S. paratroopers flew over the town while German soldiers machine guns were firing at them. (AP Photo/Nicolas Garriga)

¡¡¡¡Henri-Jean Renaud, 86, poses outside the church in Sainte-Mere-Eglise, Normandy, Friday, June 4, 2021. Henri-Jean Renaud, 86, remembers D-Day like it was yesterday. He was a young boy and was hidden in his family home in Sainte-Mere-Eglise when more than 800 planes bringing U.S. paratroopers flew over the town while German soldiers machine guns were firing at them. (AP Photo/Nicolas Garriga)

¡¡¡¡A D-Day ceremony is reflected in a brass instrument in Carentan, Normandy, Friday, June 4, 2021. In a small Normandy town where paratroopers landed in the early hours of D-Day, applauds broke the silence to honor Charles Shay. He was the only veteran to attend the ceremony in Carentan commemorating the 77th anniversary of the assault that led to the end World War II. (AP Photo/Nicolas Garriga)

¡¡¡¡A D-Day ceremony is reflected in a brass instrument in Carentan, Normandy, Friday, June 4, 2021. In a small Normandy town where paratroopers landed in the early hours of D-Day, applauds broke the silence to honor Charles Shay. He was the only veteran to attend the ceremony in Carentan commemorating the 77th anniversary of the assault that led to the end World War II. (AP Photo/Nicolas Garriga)

¡¡¡¡Charles Shay, a 96-year-old native American from Indian Island, Maine, attends a D-Day ceremony in Carentan, Normandy, Friday, June 4, 2021. In a small Normandy town where paratroopers landed in the early hours of D-Day, applauds broke the silence to honor Charles Shay. He was the only veteran to attend the ceremony in Carentan commemorating the 77th anniversary of the assault that led to the end World War II. Shay was a 19-year-old U.S. Army medic when he landed on Omaha Beach. (AP Photo/Nicolas Garriga)

¡¡¡¡Charles Shay, a 96-year-old native American from Indian Island, Maine, attends a D-Day ceremony in Carentan, Normandy, Friday, June 4, 2021. In a small Normandy town where paratroopers landed in the early hours of D-Day, applauds broke the silence to honor Charles Shay. He was the only veteran to attend the ceremony in Carentan commemorating the 77th anniversary of the assault that led to the end World War II. Shay was a 19-year-old U.S. Army medic when he landed on Omaha Beach. (AP Photo/Nicolas Garriga)

¡¡¡¡Charles Shay, the 96-year-old native American from Indian Island, Maine, salutes during a D-Day ceremony in Carentan, Normandy, Friday, June 4, 2021. In a small Normandy town where paratroopers landed in the early hours of D-Day, applauds broke the silence to honor Charles Shay. He was the only veteran to attend the ceremony in Carentan commemorating the 77th anniversary of the assault that led to the end World War II. Shay was a 19-year-old U.S. Army medic when he landed on Omaha Beach. (AP Photo/Nicolas Garriga)

¡¡¡¡Charles Shay, the 96-year-old native American from Indian Island, Maine, salutes during a D-Day ceremony in Carentan, Normandy, Friday, June 4, 2021. In a small Normandy town where paratroopers landed in the early hours of D-Day, applauds broke the silence to honor Charles Shay. He was the only veteran to attend the ceremony in Carentan commemorating the 77th anniversary of the assault that led to the end World War II. Shay was a 19-year-old U.S. Army medic when he landed on Omaha Beach. (AP Photo/Nicolas Garriga)

¡¡¡¡Charles Shay, right, the 96-year-old native American from Indian Island, Maine, attends a D-Day ceremony in Carentan, Normandy, Friday, June 4, 2021. In a small Normandy town where paratroopers landed in the early hours of D-Day, applauds broke the silence to honor Charles Shay. He was the only veteran to attend the ceremony in Carentan commemorating the 77th anniversary of the assault that led to the end World War II. Shay was a 19-year-old U.S. Army medic when he landed on Omaha Beach. (AP Photo/Nicolas Garriga)

¡¡¡¡Charles Shay, right, the 96-year-old native American from Indian Island, Maine, attends a D-Day ceremony in Carentan, Normandy, Friday, June 4, 2021. In a small Normandy town where paratroopers landed in the early hours of D-Day, applauds broke the silence to honor Charles Shay. He was the only veteran to attend the ceremony in Carentan commemorating the 77th anniversary of the assault that led to the end World War II. Shay was a 19-year-old U.S. Army medic when he landed on Omaha Beach. (AP Photo/Nicolas Garriga)

¡¡¡¡People parade in WWII vehicles in Colleville-Montgomery,, Normandy, Saturday June, 5 2021 on the eve of 77th anniversary of the assault that helped bring an end to World War II.. While France is planning to open up to vaccinated visitors starting next week, that comes too late for the D-Day anniversary. So for the second year in a row, most public commemoration events have been cancelled. A few solemn ceremonies have been maintained, in the presence of dignitaries and a few guests only. (AP Photo/David Vincent)

¡¡¡¡People parade in WWII vehicles in Colleville-Montgomery,, Normandy, Saturday June, 5 2021 on the eve of 77th anniversary of the assault that helped bring an end to World War II.. While France is planning to open up to vaccinated visitors starting next week, that comes too late for the D-Day anniversary. So for the second year in a row, most public commemoration events have been cancelled. A few solemn ceremonies have been maintained, in the presence of dignitaries and a few guests only. (AP Photo/David Vincent)

¡¡¡¡World War II history enthusiasts parade in WWII vehicles in Colleville-Montgomery,, Normandy, Saturday June, 5 2021 on the eve of 77th anniversary of the assault that helped bring an end to World War II. While France is planning to open up to vaccinated visitors starting next week, that comes too late for the D-Day anniversary. So for the second year in a row, most public commemoration events have been cancelled. A few solemn ceremonies have been maintained, in the presence of dignitaries and a few guests only. (AP Photo/David Vincent)

¡¡¡¡World War II history enthusiasts parade in WWII vehicles in Colleville-Montgomery,, Normandy, Saturday June, 5 2021 on the eve of 77th anniversary of the assault that helped bring an end to World War II. While France is planning to open up to vaccinated visitors starting next week, that comes too late for the D-Day anniversary. So for the second year in a row, most public commemoration events have been cancelled. A few solemn ceremonies have been maintained, in the presence of dignitaries and a few guests only. (AP Photo/David Vincent)

¡¡¡¡Charles Shay, right, the 96-year-old native American from Indian Island, Maine,attends a D-Day ceremony in Carentan, Normandy, Friday, June 4, 2021. In a small Normandy town where paratroopers landed in the early hours of D-Day, applauds broke the silence to honor Charles Shay. He was the only veteran to attend the ceremony in Carentan commemorating the 77th anniversary of the assault that led to the end World War II. Shay was a 19-year-old U.S. Army medic when he landed on Omaha Beach. (AP Photo/Nicolas Garriga)

¡¡¡¡Charles Shay, right, the 96-year-old native American from Indian Island, Maine,attends a D-Day ceremony in Carentan, Normandy, Friday, June 4, 2021. In a small Normandy town where paratroopers landed in the early hours of D-Day, applauds broke the silence to honor Charles Shay. He was the only veteran to attend the ceremony in Carentan commemorating the 77th anniversary of the assault that led to the end World War II. Shay was a 19-year-old U.S. Army medic when he landed on Omaha Beach. (AP Photo/Nicolas Garriga)

¡¡¡¡Henri-Jean Renaud, 86, poses outside the church in Sainte-Mere-Eglise, Normandy, Friday, June 4, 2021. Henri-Jean Renaud, 86, remembers D-Day like it was yesterday. He was a young boy and was hidden in his family home in Sainte-Mere-Eglise when more than 800 planes bringing U.S. paratroopers flew over the town while German soldiers machine guns were firing at them. (AP Photo/Nicolas Garriga)

¡¡¡¡Henri-Jean Renaud, 86, poses outside the church in Sainte-Mere-Eglise, Normandy, Friday, June 4, 2021. Henri-Jean Renaud, 86, remembers D-Day like it was yesterday. He was a young boy and was hidden in his family home in Sainte-Mere-Eglise when more than 800 planes bringing U.S. paratroopers flew over the town while German soldiers machine guns were firing at them. (AP Photo/Nicolas Garriga)