The Commemoration of the 70th Anniversary of D-Day was moving and inspiring. Several thousand of all ages gathered to hear a service that lasted a little over 90 minutes. Opening with a parachute jump, the ceremony also featured four different flyovers, and a recognition of all the D-Day veterans, whom I estimate at 200-300. Governor Tim Kaine spoke briefly as did a representative of France who thanked America for what “your sons did for our country.”
What made the service so powerful, however, was that the participants “spoke.” Sixteen people read the words of the men and women who participated in the invasion. Their words were humorous, poignant, sad. The very first voice was that of PFC George Alex of the 82nd Airborne. “I was 19 and afraid,” he wrote. The crowd felt his fear even 70 years later.
A new sculpture was unveiled on the grounds entitled “Homage,” and in her remarks, the President of the National D-Day Memorial Foundation, April Cheek-Messier touched upon the Bedford Boys, saying of them, “They went down the ramps, onto the sand, on to destiny, into memory.”
The final speaker was to have been Robert Sales, of Company B, 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Division. In a clear voice, Sales presented his wife whom, he said, would speak for him. (It was not announced why this was done.)
Sales saw his captain, then his friend and sergeant get cut down when the ramp of the landing craft dropped onto the beach. When it was his turn to run out, the ship heaved in the turbulent surf and he was thrown off to the side and into the water, which made him the lone survivor among the 30 men in that Higgins boat. When he got ashore,his friend the sergeant was lying wounded, but propped himself up on his elbows and called to Sales for help. A sniper shot him through the head. Robert Sales knew he was next and put his head on the sand and waited . . . Perhaps, the most poignant statement of the day came from Mrs. Sales who said, “On this day, of all days, we are all together, in spirit if not in body.” I was happy to be wearing sunglasses.