'It was tough': WWII veterans return to Utah Beach to commemorate D-Day

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Dozens of World War II veterans have traveled to Normandy this week to mark the 79th anniversary of D-Day, the decisive but deadly assault that led to the liberation of France and Western Europe from Nazi control.

U.S. veterans arrive for the commemoration organized by the Best Defense Foundation at Utah Beach near Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, Normandy, France, Sunday, June 4, 2023, ahead of the D-Day Anniversary. The landings on the coast of Normandy 79 year ago by U.S. and British troops took place on June 6, 1944. – Looking at the vastness of Utah Beach, its sand blowing in strong wind and bright sunshine, made Robert Gibson's memory of D-Day even more vivid.

He remembered “lots of casualties. We had almost run over bodies to get in the beach. Never forget we were only 18, 19 years old. ... I’m glad I made it.” Andrew Negra also landed on Utah Beach. That was on July 18, 1944. He returned for the first time this year and was “amazed” by the warm welcome from local French people.

Cheerful crowds applauded, calling out “Merci" and “Thank you.” Children waved, and many families asked for a photo with the men. The veterans then headed to Sainte-Marie-du-Mont for a brief ceremony at a monument honoring the U.S. Navy that overlooks Utah Beach. “Frankly, I don’t think we can quite fathom what they lived through. We can’t understand it, it’s so big, it’s crazy,” Lionel Draucourt said.


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