Friday, June 14, 2024

The last war veterans keep the memories of D-Day alive

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D-Day veteran Ken Hay (98) is clear in his message to British schoolchildren. Love is what is needed to prevent or end acts of war. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA via AP / NTB

Of NTB | 06/05/2024 06:53:00

Policy: On D-Day 6 June 1944, the Normandy landings, codenamed “Operation Neptune”, were launched. It was the largest operation of its kind ever undertaken.

The day marked a turning point in the Nazis’ grip on Europe. From Normandy, Allied forces advanced towards Paris, which was liberated on 25 August.

World leaders have emphasized the significance of the event. US President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, countries that sent most of the troops, will travel to Normandy for the ceremonies, hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron.

Hay is today 98 years old and works to ensure that the experiences of those who fought and died to end the Nazi regime live on forever.

The veteran visits schools to tell his story – to help keep it from fading.

He emphasizes that his goal is not to glorify war, but on the contrary to convey the message that there must be other ways to resolve conflicts.

At a school in east London, Hay recently spoke about his own experiences of the Nazis’ cruelty.

After he and four other members of his military unit were captured, they were transported to Poland by train and put to work in a coal mine. When Russian forces moved in from the east in January 1945, the prisoners were forced to march back across the continent with little food or protection from the weather.

But he was ready when eleven-year-old Joey Howlett asked how to end war.

– Love, answered Hay.

– If you love yourself, if you love your family, if you love your friends, if you love the people you met yesterday, today and tomorrow, there would be no wars, emphasized the war veteran.

Even the youngest of these men and women are approaching 100 years of age, and their numbers are rapidly decreasing. Therefore, the survivors feel an extra responsibility to tell their stories.

– This is probably the last major commemoration we can celebrate in the presence of the veteran generation who actually fought, and listen to their wisdom, states Rob Citino, senior historian at The National WWII Museum in New Orleans.

They knew that failure would prolong the war, which would have meant more death and misery across Europe.

Citino emphasizes that the invasion required great military sacrifices, but that the world can only guess how many more civilian victims there would have been if the Nazis’ racial policy had been allowed to continue.

Even with the success of D-Day, Jews continued to die in Nazi concentration camps until the end of the war.

Anne Frank, who spent more than two years hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam, listened to BBC reports about D-Day and wrote in her famous diary that the news filled her with fresh courage. Her family was arrested in August 1944, and she died in Bergen-Belsen in February 1945.

Among the many thousands of soldiers who took part in the invasion was British Ken Hay. His participation lasted only a few weeks before his squad was surrounded by German forces and captured. He was a prisoner of war for 10 months.

– While we are here, and there are fewer and fewer of us, of course, it is important that we convey what happened. So that the accounts from the history books become tangible, says Hay.

Hay tells of hunger and cold and pain. He withholds some of the most gruesome details from the children.

That the memories of D-Day should not disappear is something that preoccupies most of the veterans who are gathering in Normandy this week. They know they are the last to tell about the events.

The Allies used clever tricks and deception, including a dummy army of inflatable tanks and planes, to deceive the Germans as to where the invasion would take place. They struggled to find a day with the right combination of weather, moon and tide to increase their chances of success.

(© NTB)

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