Second World War veterans from the US have returned to the Normandy D-Day beaches 75 years on to pay tribute to their fallen comrades who sacrificed their lives.
Gathering on Omaha Beach in France, the former-soldiers saluted the friends who died during the landings and war that stretched from 1939 to 1945.
Americans traveled thousands of miles to arrive today June 6 in time for the commemorations, as part of their promise to ‘never forget’ those who lost their lives.
Male and female veterans, many of whom are in their 90s now, traveled from all over the globe in what could be one of the last large-scale gatherings for such a landmark anniversary.
In the touching ceremony, some veterans visited to ‘face their demons before going to their graves’, talk to fellow survivors and others looked to ‘rub shoulders’ with their servicemen.
World War II veterans from the United States salute as they pose in front of Les Braves monument at Omaha Beach in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, Normandy, France, Monday
One World War II veteran waves to the crowds gather in Normandy to remember their fallen friends and servicemen
The veterans gather and have traveled from all over the world. It was estimated that 150,000 servicemen fought in the D-Day Landings that took place along Normandy beaches.
One veteran sits among other pensive-looking servicemen, all of whom would have known people who died during the D-Day landings and return to commemorate 75 years on from that date.
The US National Memorial D-Day Foundation estimate that there were 2,499 American fatalities and 1,914 from other allied nations – previous estimates were as high as 10,000 in total.
More than 150,000 service men fought in the landings many under 20-years-old, 11,000 airplanes and 5,000 ships were deployed.
The soldiers had to struggle through 200 yards of beach, while carrying 80lb of equipment and dodge bullets flying through the air, in the hope of reaching their first protective natural feature.
The term ‘D-Day’ refers to the day designated for an invasion. Now 75-years to the day, some of the veterans share their memories and reasoning for returning.
For one, Jerry Deitch, 93, a survivor of Utah Beach – one of the five D-Day beaches invaded – he hoped to ‘keep his nerves in check’ having previously refused to return to Normandy.
‘I don’t think I can handle it. I’ll get too emotional,’ he said.
Deitch from Nevada, was 18-years-old when he landed and said, ‘after the first day I felt like I was 30. I went in a little boy and came out a man. You grow up fast.’
Serving in a U.S. combat demolition unit, his job was to clear obstacles and blow up strong points that could slow the Allied advance inland.
The veterans gathered 75-years after the D-Day landings to remember fallen friends, to try to overcome the mental scarring from their time at war and for others, to brush shoulders with other servicemen and women
Veterans wave at the crowds during the commemorations for 75-years on from the D-Day landings on Normandy Beach, France
A man is pictured dressed in attired that would have been wore during the D-Day landings, new estimates believe that there were 2,499 American fatalities and 1,914 from other allied nations – previous estimates were as high as 10,000 in total
He decided he must revisit where his good friends died.
During the landings, he was hit by a piece of shrapnel that left a fist-sized dent in his helmet – giving him a concussion that forced others to evacuate him back to England.
Deitch said: ‘I know exactly where I was when I was hit. Exactly the spot. I see it in my mind all the time.’
Long unable to speak to his family about his experiences, he recently started writing down his recollections so that when he is gone, they will know what he went through.
‘It changed my life, yeah,’ Deitch said of D-Day. ‘It taught me to be very tolerant. God gives us free will; you’ve got to use it.’
Having long kept his war to himself, Deitch thanks people for listening to his recollections now.
‘I feel better when I speak about it,’ he said. ‘If you have demons, face them.’
In contrast, Russell Pickett, 94, has returned to Normandy multiple times and believes that coming back has helped him to ‘cope with the horrors’ he lived with since he was 19-years-old.
He was among the first wave of American troops aiming for Omaha Beach, the bloodiest of the D-Day landing zones.
The former private in the 29th Infantry Division was immediately injured and he still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Pickett said: ‘For a long time, I really didn’t want to come back, and I kind of dreaded it.
United States World War II veteran Russell Pickett, from Tennessee, poses at Omaha Beach in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, Normandy, France
‘I can’t say that I really enjoy the whole thing, you know? When I head back on the beach and all that kind of stuff, sometimes it does things to you.
‘But like this, you can see kind of what we was fighting for and, you know, that makes a little difference.’
With a flamethrower strapped to his back, Pickett was wounded when an explosion tore at the landing craft transporting him onto a beach which was sprayed by German machine-gun and artillery fire.
He blacked out and woke up on the water’s edge, next to a dead body and unable to move his legs.
After being plucked out of the water by another landing craft, he was hospitalized in England and then returned to Normandy, where he fought in the dense hedgerows that slowed the Allied advance and was injured again.
United States World War II veteran Leila Morrison, from Colorado, poses at Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy
Pickett says he long tried to deal alone with his trauma before finally seeking medical help.
He said: ‘I’ve got it now where I can handle it pretty well, because you live the war almost every night, you see? And you don’t get rid of it, no matter what you do.
‘I would love to forget it, totally forget it, but no way, especially when you go through a battle like D-Day.’
The last time Leila Morrison saw Omaha Beach was when she landed on it in 1944, three months after D-Day, when she came to nurse soldiers injured in combat.
She said: ‘I felt as though when I stepped on that sand I was stepping on sacred grounds because so many people had given their all for it. It was just plain sand.’
At the end of the war, she nursed survivors of the Buchenwald concentration camp.
Morrison said: ‘I want to tell the French and the whole world how great it is that we do have our freedom, and we have so many privileges in America that other places don’t have.
‘Every day is a memorial day for me. I see those young fellas that didn’t make it. So many of them, and I am thankful over and over again.’
Helen Patton, the granddaughter of famed American tank commander, Gen. George S. Patton Jr., returns with a message that the younger generations should enjoy the liberties so many soldiers fought and died for.
While presiding over a game of American football near to the landing beaches, she quoted from a poem written by her grandfather during World War I to convey the idea that part of honoring those sacrifices is relishing life:
Patton said: ‘When I sit in my tank and wait for the hour for the great barrage to come down, I wish to god there was one more day for raising hell in town.’
Second World War veteran Roy Huereque, second right, from New Mexico, visits with local schoolchildren at the Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, on the 75th Anniversary of D-Day
White roses and US flags are places in the sand in front of the sea at Omaha Beach in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, Normandy, to commemorate the D-Day invasion which took place on June 6, 1944
One American veteran Pete Shaw, center, from Pennsylvania, visits the Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, France, Monday, June 3, 2019
United States World War II veteran Pete Shaw, from Pennsylvania, poses at Omaha Beach in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, Normandy, France, Monday, June 3, 2019, which is now 75 years to the day of the landings
A World War II Vultee BT-13 flies over the town of St Hilaire Petitville, in Normandy, France, Monday, June 3, 2019
People gathered to watch the military vehicles and try to take in the realities of those service who fought, forced to charge 200 yards of beach to reach any potentially protective land-features
World War II veterans from the United States salute as they pose with local school children at the Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, France,on the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings
Fearless D-Day veterans, 95 and 94, will parachute into Normandy 75 years after they first landed there
Two fearless D-Day veterans in their nineties are to parachute into Normandy 75 years after they first landed there.
Harry Read, 95, and John Hutton, 94, will take part in the descent on Wednesday to commemorate the anniversary of the landings.
Now a retired Salvation Army officer living in Bournemouth, Dorset, Mr Read was a 20-year-old wireless operator with the Royal Signals who had a battery the size and weight of a toolbox strapped to his right leg when he was pushed out of the plane in the early hours of June 6 1944.
Mr Hutton – known by his friends as Jock – was 19 when he served in the 13th Lancashire Parachute Battalion.
Among some 280 paratroopers, the pair will board a Dakota aircraft in Duxford, Cambridgeshire, and fly to Sannerville with the Red Devils, where they will perform a tandem jump and land in fields used as a ‘drop zone’ for the 8th (Midlands) Parachute Battalion, who went on to destroy bridges in a bid to restrict German movements during the missions.
More used to descending within 800ft of the ground and landing after 30 seconds, Mr Read last year challenged himself to a skydive from 10,000ft.
Harry Read (pictured at 19 left and today right), 95, and John Hutton, 94, will take part in the descent on Wednesday to commemorate the anniversary of the landings
After visiting the Normandy battlefields – and in a bid to support the Salvation Army’s anti-trafficking and modern slavery campaign – he resolved to try another jump again.
The great-great-grandfather, who grew up in Middlesbrough, said the forthcoming descent – after which he will visit fallen comrades in cemeteries – will be tinged with sadness.
Mr Read said: ‘I will enjoy the jump. There are very real and definite pleasures in parachuting. It might be a little bit tricky, but I’m willing to have a go.
‘But also in my heart I will be thinking of my mates. I get very moved when I think about them.
‘I have lived one of the most fulfilled lives that it’s possible for a person to live and they haven’t. I will stand in that cemetery and I will be speechless and I’ll weep.’
Presented with the Chevalier medal – by order of the Legion d’Honneur – for the role he played in the operation as part of the 6th Airborne Division, Mr Read remembers the flight over was so turbulent they could barely stand, adding: ‘It was like riding a bucking bronco.’
Then they were shoved out of the plane.
He said: ‘You’re at your most vulnerable as a para when you’re hung by your shoulders. And you know that for every bullet you can see, there are five that you can’t.
‘Up ahead you could see the most magnificent firework display you had ever seen in your life, except it wasn’t a firework display. It was horrendous.’
Mr Read descended amid mortar fire while an aircraft went down in flames ahead of him and shells exploded all around.
With a target just less than four miles inland, they landed with heavy equipment which was almost immediately discarded as he was submerged by flood water.
He and a comrade spent 16 hours trying to get out of the swamp before seeking refuge with a French farming family.
There a priest helped them reunite with the rest of their section so they could continue their advance towards the River Seine.
Mr Read, who told how he saw soldiers blown up in front of him and was briefed by senior officers to expect 50% casualties upon landing, said: ‘Our casualties had been heavy.
‘When we were being briefed for the actual conflict, our major general said the objectives must be carried out ‘at whatever cost’.
‘The cost was us. We were talking flesh and blood. Young men think they are immortal. The reality was the chances of me coming back were much smaller than the chances of me being killed.
‘I came to the conclusion there would be no withholding of energy or effort on my part. I would not surrender.’
Being an experienced parachutist – most recently jumping at a similar event five years ago – Mr Hutton, from Larkfield in Kent, is not at all phased by the prospect of the descent.
A member of the Parachute Regiment, he said he was ‘itching all the time to join a fighting unit’ and when he saw recruitment posters ‘I put both arms up, celebrated, in my rush to get there.’
He added: ‘Military parachuting was a hurried affair, mainly by Winston Churchill.
‘He was at the stage where he was tearing his hair out wondering what to do to match up to the German army.
‘He insisted that the British Army produce 5,000 parachutists at the drop of a hat.’
Landing at Pegasus Bridge near Caen, Mr Hutton said: ‘It was in the dark, but I’d done a lot of parachuting. There was nothing strange about it.’
Mr Hutton, who initially signed up as a boy soldier in Stirling aged 15, still has shrapnel lodged in his stomach after he was injured in an explosion later in the Normandy campaign.
He said: ‘Three weeks after the landings I was on a night patrol. Germans saw us in the moonlight and threw grenades. Such was the noise I didn’t realise I had been wounded.
‘It was only when I got back to my hole in the ground, I couldn’t feel my legs.’