World War II veterans honored a day before D-Day anniversary

  • British Veterans attend a ceremony Sunday at Pegasus Bridge, in Ranville, Normandy. (AP Photo/Jeremias Gonzalez)

RANVILLE, France — More than 20 British World War II veterans gathered Sunday near Pegasus Bridge in northwestern France, one of the first sites liberated by Allied forces from Nazi Germany, for commemorations honoring the nearly 160,000 troops from Britain, the U.S., Canada and other nations who landed in Normandy on June 6, 1944.

Veterans, their families and French and international visitors braved the rainy weather to take part in series of events this weekend and on Monday for the 78th anniversary of D-Day.

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This year’s D-Day anniversary comes after two successive years of the COVID-19 pandemic restricted or deterred visitors. Many felt the celebrations paying tribute to those who brought peace and freedom on the continent held special meaning this year as war is raging again in Europe since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.

Dozens of U.S. veterans were also attending events in the region.

Peter Smoothy, 97, served in the British Royal Navy and landed on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.

“The first thing I remember are the poor lads who didn’t come back … It’s a long time ago now, nearly 80 years … And here we are still living,” he told The Associated Press. “We’re thinking about all these poor lads who didn’t get off the beach that day, their last day, but they’re always in our minds.”

Welcomed to the sound of bagpipes at the Pegasus Memorial in the French town of Ranville, British veterans attended a ceremony commemorating a key operation in the first minutes of the Allied invasion of Normandy, when troops had to take control a strategically crucial bridge.

Bill Gladden, 98, took part to the D-Day British airborne operation and was later shot while defending the bridge.

“I landed on D-Day and was injured on the 18th of June … So I was three years at the hospital,” he said.

Meanwhile, on the British side of the Channel, then 17-year-old Mary Scott was working at the communications center in Portsmouth, listening to the coded messages coming from the front line and passing them on as part of the operations on Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword Beaches.

“The war was in my ears,” she recalled, describing the radio machine.

“When they (communication officers) had to respond to my messages and they lifted their lever, you heard all the sounds of the men on the beaches: bombs, machine guns, men shouting, screaming.”

Scott, who will soon turn 96, said she got very “emotional” when arriving to Normandy on Saturday on a trip organized by the Taxi Charity for Military Veterans. She was in tears when seeing the D-Day beaches.

“Suddenly I thought maybe some of those young men I spoke to… that they had died,” she said.

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