The 80th Anniversary of D-Day May Be the Last for All But a Handful of WWII Veterans

AP Photo/Thibault Camus

They are in their nineties and early 100s now. Veterans of the most stupendous undertaking of arms in world history are growing fewer by the year.

This 80th-anniversary commemoration may be the last major remembrance featuring living veterans. The major commemorations are held every five years and with all the veterans in their mid to late 90s or early 100s, the chance of seeing anyone in five years is slim. That's why the nations that sent young men to brave the murderous fire to land on Normandy's beaches are going all out to fete the surviving veterans with special events and presentations.

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“We are perfectly aware that for these centenarians, this is maybe the last chance to return to the beaches where they landed, where they fought and where their brothers-in-arms fell,” said Gen. Michel Delion, the CEO of the French government agency in charge of the French commemoration efforts.

To kick off the festivities, there was a mass parachute jump over Normand featuring C-47 planes from which Army paratroopers jumped into the dark 80 years ago. The planes dropped 70 parachutists decked out in World War II uniforms and jumping using the distinctive round, silk parachutes.

Thousands cheered them down and hooted as several deer, unnerved by the spectacle, leaped from their hiding places and took off.

Associated Press;

The planes took off Sunday from Duxford, England, for the 90-minute flight to Carentan. The Normandy town was at the heart of D-Day drop zones in 1944, when paratroopers jumped in darkness into gunfire, many scattering far from their objectives.

Sunday’s jumpers were from an international civilian team of parachutists, many of them former soldiers. The only woman was 61-year-old Dawna Bennett, who felt history’s force as she exited her plane into the Normandy skies.

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Here are some American D-Day veterans being welcomed to France by enthusiastic French citizens. They have never forgotten.

If you're like me and you like to go back in time and place yourself "in the moment" when history is happening, it's hard to think about D-Day. I think Ronald Reagan captured what it must have been like when he spoke on the 40th anniversary of D-Day 40 years ago.

The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers — the edge of the cliffs shooting down at them with machine guns and throwing grenades. And the American Rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up. When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe. Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After 2 days of fighting, only 90 could still bear arms.

Behind me is a memorial that symbolizes the Ranger daggers that were thrust into the top of these cliffs. And before me are the men who put them there.

These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.

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We need that courage and leadership badly today.



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