We call our World War II veterans our “Greatest Generation.” This is not because they were all wartime heroes. Only a few were, although they did free the world from oppression no matter what their roles were.
They are our Greatest Generation also because those who coped with adversity grew in character. Those who had to work hard and then wait to obtain life’s comforts understood value. Living through the Great Depression and then World War II molded these veterans into ideal citizens.
My wife, Claire, and I were two of the some 5,000 invitees who attended this year’s 70th commemoration of the Allied landings in Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944.
Having attended several previous D-Day commemorations, we expected this one to be a glorious event, given the age of the D-Day veterans. I had attended the ceremonies on June 6, 1994, with a battleship and cruisers in their positions of 50 years before. Claire and I were also present at the 60th commemoration on June 6, 2004. We were proud to witness the honor bestowed those days on our D-Day veterans.
Up at 4:30 a.m. on June 6 of this year, we finished dressing by pinning on medals awarded for our contributions to two French associations which commemorate American sacrifices in liberating France from Nazi tyranny.
We are likely these associations’ most highly recognized Americans. Claire’s father, then-Capt. Charles d’Orgeix, entered Paris that fateful day of liberation, Aug. 25, 1944, at the head of his 18-tank squadron. Claire had come to remember her father and his heroic actions that summer of 1944.
I have written a book, “Messages in Handlebars,” which related the final missions of two B-17s.
I was at the U.S. American military cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer atop Omaha Beach to honor the seven crewmen from those two planes, who are among the 9,400 American servicemen interred in this sacred place.
We drove to Caen to board a bus that would take us to Colleville. We stood in line for nearly three hours before boarding our bus. Four and one half hours after our arrival in Caen, we completed what should have been a 45 minute trip. Arriving at 10:30, the time ceremonies were scheduled to start, we could find no seats.
Finally, 45 minutes later, Presidents Hollande of France and Obama of the United States were in place. By this time, most D-Day veterans had been sitting in the sun for several hours.
There was no band, so the national anthems were from recordings played over loudspeakers.
Following short, inflated speeches by the two presidents, there was a 21-gun salute followed by a flyover of three F-15s that lasted about 7 seconds. That was all there was to the ceremony.
Now began an ordeal for our D-Day veterans and we attendees. Armed guards kept all attendees in place for 45 minutes while the two presidents boarded their helicopters to leave. It was past noon when attendees were able to return to the bus loading area, but only a trickle of buses were available.
No chairs had been provided for our veterans’ waits. There was little shade from the sun’s overhead glare. As we waited for buses, we mingled with the many veterans waiting with us. Three hours of standing or sitting on concrete curbs passed before we boarded our bus. There were many remaining as we left the parking area to return to our staging area, one of several.
More pageantry, more recognition is provided in military cemeteries across the United States every Memorial Day and Veterans Day than occurred on what should have been the most important ceremony of our D-Day veterans’ lives.
To understand why this affront occurred, one must look at the White House and the Elysée Palace to understand the event was staged as a political opportunity instead of as the most significant military ceremony of a generation.
Ken Kirk is a former professor of finance at Kennesaw State University. He divides his time between Marietta and France.