The last walk? Vets return to town they liberated 70 years ago.
For 70 Years A Normandy Village Honors Aging WWII Veterans
Lucien (left) and Germaine Rigault lean out
of their home in La Cambe, a tiny village in Normandy a short distance
from Omaha Beach. The couple, in their 80s, were in La Cambe during the
Allied landing on June 6, 1944, and live there still. "We were scared,"
Lucien says of that day, "but very happy to be liberated."
Germaine and Lucien Rigault, 86 and 89 years old, respectively,
lean out their first-floor window, watching people go by. They were here
in the tiny French hamlet of La Cambe on June 6, 1944, the day the
Allies invaded Normandy and began the liberation of France and Europe
from Nazi control during World War II.
"I remember June 6 very
well. We saw the first planes bombing and we knew something was
happening on the coast. And soon we began seeing American soldiers," he
recalled. "We were scared, but very happy to be liberated. I was working
as a forced laborer then, building bunkers for the Nazis along the
They married a year after the war, and never left. La
Cambe is about 10 miles inland from Omaha Beach, the American beach,
and one of the five places where the Allies landed on D-Day. La Cambe
celebrated Thursday, a day in advance of the formal anniversary, by
unveiling of a plaque in honor of the men who liberated it 70 years ago.
crowd gathered and a band played amid streamers and banners. A group of
children waved French and American flags. A bus pulled up and American
WWII veterans began getting out.
U.S. World War II veteran Arden C. Earll, 89,
of Erie, Penn., landed on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, with the 29th
Infantry Division regiment. A crowd applauds as he arrives at a ceremony
in honor of the division, in La Cambe, France, as part of the
commemoration of the 70th D-Day anniversary on Wednesday.
People clapped as the veterans disembarked and made their way up
the street of the little village. Many had trouble walking and needed
canes. They were all being assisted. One veteran was in a wheelchair.
But they all made it.
The group included, James Kunkle, 91, who
was part of the 401st Fighter Squadron that patrolled the skies during
the invasion to protect the troops landing on the beaches below.
"We unveiled a little monument out there at the airport this morning," he said. "It's really emotional." Kunkle
took off and landed from the farm of a French family for several weeks
during that summer of 1944. I asked if he's still in contact with them.
"I'm staying with them," he said, laughing. "They're right over here."
A group of children in La Cambe wave French
and American flags at the unveiling of a plaque honoring the U.S. troops
who liberated the village.
It was Dominique LeGrand's grandmother who met Kunkle in 1944.
"Jim is part of our family," LeGrand said, chuckling as well. "He's like our grandfather. It's very emotional." LeGrand's
laughter can't hide the tears streaming down his cheeks. He has brought
his 12-year-old son to take part in the ceremony – passing the
friendship down another generation.
Other children are here,
too. Max Van Dorn, 11, has come from California. It's his first visit to
Normandy, a trip he describes as "awesome."
"I'm wearing a 101st Airborne outfit," he said proudly, referring to the paratroopers who jumped into Normandy on D-Day.
Max's father, Ted, came to the 60th anniversary and vowed he'd bring his children back to the 70th. "On
the 60th, there were quite a few of the veterans who were here, and
this year I think there'll be a little less. But they're still here. For
the 80th, I don't think so," the elder Van Dorn says. "So this is the
last time that there'll be a big anniversary, and we'll be able to meet
these guys, so that was important." American
Don McCarthy, 90, fought with the 116th Infantry in the second assault
wave on Omaha Beach that morning of June 6. McCarthy says he's been back
11 times. He says it's the only way to erase the horrors of that day.
you want to get through it and live through it and see it to its end,
you gotta go back to where it was. You gotta put your feet in the water.
You gotta crawl in the sand." he said. "And then you'll be alright. And
As the village children helped unveil a plaque to the
29th U.S. Infantry Division, which rolled into La Cambe on June 8,
1944, everyone here seemed acutely aware that this may be the last
gathering to include the liberators and those they liberated.