D-Day memories still fresh 70 years later for U.S. veterans

Fri Jun 6, 2014 5:56pm EDT
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By Ian Simpson

BEDFORD Va. (Reuters) - Seventy years after D-Day, Carl Proffitt Jr. can still remember the bodies of soldiers washing up on France's Omaha Beach in the Allied invasion that helped turn the tide against Nazi Germany in World War Two.

One of the dwindling band of World War Two veterans who gathered on Friday at the National D-Day Memorial to mark the anniversary, Proffitt was in the first wave of infantry put ashore on Normandy's Omaha Beach in the teeth of German gunfire.

"If there was such a thing as hell on earth, that was it," Proffitt, 95, of Charlottesville, Virginia, told Reuters. He still carries German mortar shrapnel in a leg.

The day after the landing, "the tide had come in and washed all the dead bodies up against the sea wall. I couldn't believe it," said Proffitt, second in command of a boatload of soldiers in Company K, 116th Regiment of the 29th Infantry Division.

"Blown to pieces, human bodies, all kinds of equipment. I can't discuss it, really, because I don't know how."

Thousands of spectators gathered under brilliant sunshine to honor Proffitt and other veterans of the largest seaborne invasion in history and the Normandy campaign that drove Adolf Hitler's troops from France.

The commemoration drew about 350 veterans from at least eight U.S. states. With the youngest of them in their late 80s, the event had been billed by organizers as likely the last large gathering of D-Day veterans.

Bedford, a scenic town in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, is the home of the D-Day Memorial because 19 men from there were killed when they landed on Omaha Beach, the largest per-capita D-Day loss by any U.S. community.   Continued...

A veteran shows a picture of his unit as he attends a ceremony to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, in Old Bethpage, New York, June 6, 2014. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz