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WWII veterans arrive in France ahead of D-Day commemoration

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

This week, President Biden and other world leaders will gather in France to mark the 80th anniversary of the Normandy invasion, that moment when the U.S. and its allies began to free France and Western Europe from Nazi occupation. Eighty years means a lot of the men who took the beaches on D-Day are now gone, but not all of them. A handful of World War II veterans will be there. They arrived in Paris this weekend, as Eleanor Beardsley reports.

(CHEERING)

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Cheers resounded in terminal 2C of Charles de Gaulle Airport as 66 World War II veterans were wheeled from the plane one by one. The welcoming crowd waved French and American flags. Many held pictures of the men and a few women taken some 80 years ago. Despite the passage of time, Frenchman Frederic Nancel recognizes the soldier in the picture he's holding and approaches him.

UNIDENTIFIED VETERAN: Oh.

FREDERIC NANCEL: This is you.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED VETERAN: Wonderful, wonderful.

BEARDSLEY: David Yoho says he's thrilled to be back. A D-Day veteran who lied about his age to get into the war, he's one of the few veterans who walked off the plane.

DAVID YOHO: Listen, we're glad to be alive. Average guy is pretty close to 100.

BEARDSLEY: And how old are you?

YOHO: Ninety-six - I'm the youngest on the flight. I went in at 15, falsified.

RALPH GOLDSTICKER: Yeah. Oh, it's wonderful to be back. We did a great job, but the...

BEARDSLEY: One-hundred-and-two-year-old Ralph Goldsticker is accompanied by his 73-year-old son, Larry, who pushes his wheelchair.

LARRY: My grandmother saved every letter that he wrote - 500 letters that I got to read. You know, so you look at your father as kind of a god/idol-like figure and realize these were boys. He was 21 years old when they're doing this.

BEARDSLEY: Bill Wall was a 21-year-old gunner on a B-24 bomber that flew above the landing beaches. He says he lost some of his dearest friends.

BILL WALL: It was just like sitting ducks - young guys scared to death, no protection, in landing crafts and some of them seasick. And they were just slaughtered.

LOUIS BROWN: My name is Louis Brown, and I'm 98 years old.

BEARDSLEY: Brown was part of the Red Ball Express, the famous convoy system that transported supplies from the beaches to the troops in record time. It's his first time back.

BROWN: I know everything is different now than what it was when I was there. Everything was just torn up. I don't remember no pretty airport like this.

DENISE CAMPBELL BAUER: Welcome back to France.

(APPLAUSE)

BEARDSLEY: American ambassador to France, Denise Campbell Bauer, lauded what she called the Greatest Generation.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: (Singing in French).

BEARDSLEY: A school group sang the French and American national anthems. These veterans will be the guests of honor in celebrations all week along the beaches of Normandy.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: (Singing) Through the perilous fight...

BEARDSLEY: Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jim Kane
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.
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