On Monday World War II veterans returned to Normandy to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion—some for the first time.
June 6th marks the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, where Allied forces invaded the beaches of Normandy to liberate Europe from the Nazis. Of the more than 4,000 Allied troops who died on D-Day, 2,501 were American.
The 2019 D-Day commemorations are expected to be the last that many surviving WWII veterans will be able to attend. Many of the veterans see it as their duty to return and honor their fallen comrades.
Jerry Deitch is one such veteran who went back to Normandy for the first time. According to the Associated Press:
Jerry Deitch thinks he’ll be able to keep his nerves in check but isn’t sure. The survivor of Utah Beach, one of the five D-Day beaches, had always refused to go back to Normandy.
“I said, ‘No,’ I said, ‘I don’t think I can handle it. I’ll get too emotional,’” he says.
Now 93 years old, Deitch decided he must see where good friends died and revisit the spot by a seawall where he was hit by a piece of shrapnel that left a fist-sized dent in his helmet.
Deitch, who is from Nevada, was 18 years old when he landed and says “after the first day I felt like I was 30. I went in a little boy and came out a man. You grow up fast.”
Serving in a U.S. combat demolition unit, his job was to clear obstacles and blow up strong points that could slow the Allied advance inland. The shrapnel that dented Deitch’s helmet gave him a concussion; he was evacuated back to England.
“I know exactly where I was when I was hit. Exactly the spot. I see it in my mind all the time,” he said.
Deitch told the Associated Press that he feels better when he speaks about his experience, concluding that “If you have demons, face them.”
Onofrio Zicari, who fought with the 5th Amphibious Brigade, 5th Wave on D-Day also returned to Normandy for the first time.
"I'm hopin' that goin' back to Normandy gives me closure of some kind," Zicari said to ABC News.
President Trump gathered with world leaders on Wednesday to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion in Portsmouth, England.
The president read a prayer President Franklin Roosevelt gave to Americans on June 6, 1944.
“Almighty God, our sons, pride of our nation, this day, have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our republic, our religion and our civilization and to set free a suffering humanity.”
D-Day veteran Les Hammond, 93, who took part in the commemorations at Portsmouth, said that being a member in a dwindling group of people makes him pause.
“What happened to me is not important. I’m not a hero. I served with men who were. I’m very lucky I’m a survivor,” he said.