French Determined To Keep D-Day Memories Alive
SCOTT SIMON, Host:
Eleanor Beardsley sends this report.
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ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: In the tiny village of Ville-Sur-Mer, hundreds of people are gathered on the boardwalk along Omaha Beach to listen to the memories of American veterans who fought here. In former years, dozens of veterans took part in ceremonies like this one. Today, there are only a handful.
HAROLD BAUMGARTEN: My name is Harold Baumgarten. I'm from Jacksonville Beach, Florida. And this was the smallest but most heavily defended part of Omaha Beach. It was portrayed in two motions pictures - "The Longest Day" and "Saving Private Ryan" - and I was there.
BEARDSLEY: While a D-Day anniversary is about remembering, it's also clearly about having a good time.
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BEARDSLEY: Planes fly overhead. The whole scene has the feel of a Hollywood set with everyone dressed to play a part.
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BEARDSLEY: A group of English people in full battle regalia picnics in the grass on the side of the road. Bill Betts(ph) of North Hamptonshire shows off his ambulance.
BILL BETTS: The World War II American ambulance - a Dodge, 1943 - and I restored it all myself to get it here this weekend. And this is with stretchers in the back and with a first aid kit.
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BEARDSLEY: Eighty-seven-year-old Andre Laroute(ph) was 22 years old in June 1944. He remembers that everyone was anxious for the Americans to arrive after four long years of German occupation.
ANDRE LAROUTE: (Through translator) And we kept wondering why are they taking so long, but then when we saw the massive amounts of material and equipment they brought, we understood. It was staggering, unthinkable. You have to remember, at that time there were only two cars in the village.
BEARDSLEY: Unidentified Woman #1: (French spoken)
BEARDSLEY: Two of those Americans are 87-year-old Edward and Jean Tierney(ph), who met here while serving as a pilot and a nurse. They have come back to 15 D- Day celebrations in St. Laurent Sur-Mer. Today they're being honored with a ceremony high on a bluff where their air strip used to be.
EDWARD TIERNEY: Remembering those flights coming in over that ravine, landing on this field - it's always a wonderful experience to be back here. It's a very significant spot for us in our lives. You speak.
JEAN TIERNEY: It's too emotional.
TIERNEY: Unidentified Woman #2 (Mayor): (French spoken)
BEARDSLEY: The mayor thanks Edward and Jean for their courage. Then, standing side-by-side, they lay a wreath at the foot of the new monument in the middle of wheat fields looking over a vast blue sea.
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BEARDSLEY: For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Normandy, France.
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