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“Greatest Generation Ever”: WWII Veterans Shine On D-Day

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Around 180 veterans in their late 90s or even over 100 were guests of honour at D-Day commemorations in France on Thursday, many attending in wheelchairs for possibly the last time.

At British, US and Canadian ceremonies, they recounted their memories of the Allied landings on June 6, 1944, that would help expel German forces from France and end World War II.

British former combatant Joe Mines, 99, said he had returned to the Normandy seaside town of Ver-sur-Mer for the first time in 80 years because it was likely his “last and only opportunity”.

“I wanted to pay my respects,” Mines said in comments read out by an actor during the British ceremony.

Mines, who sat nearby waving at the crowd from his wheelchair, said he was just a “boy” when he was tasked with clearing mines from the nearby beach.

“War is brutal,” he said.

He recounted meeting another young soldier on the train before D-Day.

“I went to Normandy with him, but he got killed within an hour of getting there,” he said.

A second veteran, Ron Hendry, described through an actor approaching the shore at daybreak to see “ships as far as the eye can see” and skies “black with aircraft”.

Hendry said he and others were “terrified”.

“We were all thinking the same thing: Is this my last day on earth?”

‘Can I borrow your hair?’

In an operation kept secret from the Germans, around 156,000 Allies landed on five beaches spread across the Normandy coast that summer: Omaha and Utah for the Americans, Gold and Sword for the British, and Juno for the British and Canadians.

Eight decades later, world leaders hailed their courage.

Britain’s King Charles III declared his “eternal” admiration.

Before the US ceremony in Colleville-sur-Mer, President Joe Biden individually met dozens of American veterans, offering a salute to some and a handshake to all.

They then each posed for a photograph with the US leader, with First Lady Jill Biden propping one or two up with a helping hand.

“You saved the world,” the 81-year-old president said to one of them, holding his arms and bending his knees to look into his eyes.

“The greatest generation ever,” he told another.

“Can I borrow some of your hair?” he joked with a third, who had thick white curls under a World War II veterans cap.

French President Emmanuel Macron awarded his country’s highest honour — the Legion d’Honneur — to several veterans including Christian Lamb, a British woman in her 104th year who worked on the top-secret plans for the D-Day landings.

“When all of Europe was speculating about the location of the landings… you knew the exact location,” Macron said, as Lamb sat listening in her wheelchair, a blue blanket on her lap and white rose in her hands.

“You were not there in person” with the soldiers, he said. “But you guided each step they took.”

A short while later in Colleville-sur-Mer, Macron honoured 11 US veterans, the oldest of whom was 104-year-old former bomber pilot Edward “Bud” Berthold.

Ex-radio operator Raymond “Ray” Glansberg, 102, was helped up to receive his medal.

‘Not today’

At the Canadian remembrance in Courseulles-sur-Mer, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau crouched down to talk to the World War II veterans.

In his speech, he recounted the tale of William Seifried, 99, who had flown over for the remembrance.

“While in combat, a grenade landed at his feet. He was only 21 and he said: ‘Not today.’ He picked up the grenade and swiftly threw it back,” Trudeau said.

But he said that William “Bill” Cameron, a 100-year-old Canadian veteran, died just before he was to return to France.

His daughter described “just how much he had been looking forward to being here”, Trudeau said.

“His bags have been packed for weeks. And he was so proud to be coming back to Normandy,” he said.

Another US veteran, 102-year-old Robert Persichitti, died last week while sailing to Normandy for the commemorations.

 Around 180 veterans in their late 90s or even over 100 were guests of honour at D-Day commemorations in France on Thursday, many attending in wheelchairs for possibly the last time.    

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