US veterans get heroes’ welcome in France ahead of D-Day anniversary

DEAUVILLE/PARIS — Crowds cheered and applauded as U.S. veterans arrived at French airports ahead of ceremonies marking the 80th anniversary of D-Day, when more than 150,000 Allied soldiers landed in Normandy to drive out Nazi Germany forces.  

Many of those flying in over the weekend into Monday were older than 100, pushed on wheelchairs by relatives and aides.  

“It’s unreal. It’s unreal. Wow,” 107-year-old Reynolds Tomter said at Paris Charles-de-Gaulle airport as students waved U.S. and French flags and held up photos of the veterans.  

“It feels great … and I’m so thankful that I got the opportunity to be back out here, my son with me,” said 101-year-old Bill Wall, as his son, Ray, pushed him through arrivals.

“I lost some great friends. All of these people who are out there on their crosses and unmarked graves are the true heroes. It gives me a chance to pay tribute to them which they so need. It will bring back some memories of some great people,” he added.

After shaking hands with students, 95-year-old Dave Yoho said: “My heart is full. My heart is full.”  

In Deauville, Normandy, a specially chartered flight landed on Monday.  

Across Normandy, where beaches and fields still bear the scars of the fighting that erupted on June 6, 1944 and the weeks that followed, preparations were in full gear for official ceremonies. World leaders from U.S. President Joe Biden to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will attend.  

Already, at the weekend, in Vierville-sur-Mer, a town just above Omaha Beach – one of the sectors where U.S. soldiers landed – a re-enactment camp was set up, giving visitors a chance to see what equipment the soldiers were using.  

People took rides in World War Two jeeps and armored vehicles.  

“It’s always very intense when we meet veterans, because they always have many stories to tell, and you still feel the emotion,” said Julie Boisard, who lives in Normandy and took part in the re-enactment.  

A handful of serving members of the Virginia National Guard 29th Infantry Division gazed out over the beach their elders stormed 80 years earlier.  

“It’s historic, it’s memorable … and it’s very emotional as well,” said U.S. serviceman Esaw Lee. “Those guys were so courageous and so mythical. They were legendary.”  

With war raging on Europe’s borders in 2024, this anniversary’s D-Day ceremony will carry special resonance.  

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy will be among the guests. Russia, which launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, touching off Europe’s biggest armed conflict since World War Two, was not invited to the D-Day events.  

The commemorations “remind us that we were occupied for four years and were liberated by the Americans,” said Marie-Therese Legallois, who was seven at the time of D-Day, and remembers it vividly.  

“But I always have a bit of sadness to see that the war continues, in Ukraine or elsewhere.”