It’s a sad milestone this year as the world takes a moment to commemorate the 76th anniversary of D-Day. There will be no D-Day veterans on the beaches of Normandy due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Commemorative events have been canceled and only a small gathering of representatives from nine countries is scheduled for a short ceremony. For the first time, no veterans or members of the public will be allowed to attend ceremonies at the Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-Sur-Mer, France. Instead of the traditional ceremony, a private wreath-laying ceremony will take place with representatives from the U.S. and France.
Where there is a will, there is a way though, and thanks to “Operation Pictures and Patches”, the U.S. military will continue one tradition with roots from that day on June 6, 1944.
However, the U.S. military has launched “Operation Pictures and Patches” in an attempt to continue the tradition — which began on D-Day — of soldiers handing out patches from their units to local children as souvenirs.
Although servicemen and women can not be present this year, 300 soldiers will send pictures of themselves along with patches from their units to four cities in Normandy to be distributed to local school children.
This year’s events will be live-streamed to the shrinking number of elderly veterans of Operation Overlord. Most of them are well into their 90s now.
A website will transmit events commemorating the day when 150,000 troops swarmed ashore at strategic points along 50 miles (80km) of France’s north-west coastline. That day in 1944 they were met with a hail of machine gun fire and bombardments, leaving 10,000 casualties, among them 2,500 dead.
Saturday’s commemorations will include a flypast by the French air force’s air acrobatic team, the Patrouille de France.
“Since 1945, every year we have paid homage to the men who fought for our freedom,” said Jean-Marc Lefranc, the president of the Comité du Débarquement (D-day Landing Committee). “This year, for the first time it will not be open to the public.”
Public gatherings of more than 10 people are banned in France under measures to combat coronavirus, which has claimed more than 29,000 lives across the country.
Villages along the coast are encouraged to decorate their homes with allied flags and church bells will ring at 6:44 P.M. on Saturday. Local officials told residents it is important for the veterans to know they are not forgotten.
The weather is expected to add to the sadness. Wind and rain are in the forecast.
The eerie atmosphere touches the French as well as Americans.
“The sadness is almost too much, because there is no one,” said local guide Adeline James. “Plus you have their stories. The history is sad and it’s even more overwhelming now between the weather, the (virus) situation and, and, and.”
The locals in this northwestern part of France have come out year after year to show their gratitude for the soldiers from the United States, Britain, Canada and other countries who liberated them from Adolf Hitler’s Nazi forces.
World leaders and the Department of Defense are weighing in on Twitter:
Today is #DDay. A day to honor our heroes.
More than 160,000 brave Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily-fortified French coastline to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy, France, June 6, 1944. pic.twitter.com/RNMDuI6eLB
— U.S. Army (@USArmy) June 6, 2020
— U.S. Navy (@USNavy) June 6, 2020
Today I am thinking of the men who landed on the beaches of Normandy 76 years ago, who fought and died so that we can be free from the evils of fascism.
— Boris Johnson #StayAlert (@BorisJohnson) June 6, 2020
As I write this, there isn’t a tweet from President Trump on his Twitter account yet.