FRENCH PEOPLE ARE STILL HONORING WWII Veterans
Veterans who fought on Normandy beaches are certainly not forgotten
June 05, 2014
This article appears in the June/July issue of VFW magazine
veterans who fought on Normandy’s beaches are aging, they are most certainly
not forgotten. French organizations, VFW members and museums diligently uphold the
honor of the troops who served during D-Day and beyond while actively engaging
younger generations to carry these stories to the future.
AND PHOTO BY KELLY GIBSON
along the English Channel on June 6, 1944, were not ideal. In fact, all of the
weather that strategists had hoped to avoid rolled in that morning: dense fog
and heaving waves. A cold wind whipped hard raindrops into the youthful faces
of so many GIs, awaiting their fate as they held on to the sides of landing
craft. They prepared for the pivotal battle that would claim so many lives but
would save so many more.
To this day,
French children are told stories of the heroism displayed by American troops so
France might remain free. They still offer single flowers to visiting American
veterans, now hunched with age but still bright with pride. These veterans
visit the Normandy American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer to reminisce about
their time in battle.
landscape is dotted with hundreds of memorials, monuments, cemeteries and
museums dedicated to the memory of GIs who fought there 70 years ago—some as
small as stone markers in a field, and some covering more than 20,000 square
feet and housing thousands of WWII artifacts. Nowhere else on Earth is so much
war commemoration concentrated. And in few other locales overseas are American
sacrifices so fondly remembered.
Importance of Bearing Witness
organizations have appeared in recent years—staffed and maintained by those
much younger than “the greatest generation”—making it their mission to continue
honoring American veterans.
One such group is
the Amis Des Vétérans Américains (AVA), founded in 1964 by Simone Renaud, a
Frenchwoman from Ste.-Mère-Église. She saw firsthand the brutalities of war, as
Germans and American paratroopers fought in the streets of the small town. To
this day, “the village population dedicates its eternal gratitude” to GIs, AVA
volunteers say. Extensive memorials and commemorations can be found throughout
Renaud’s vision of a volunteer
association dedicated to welcoming veterans was the first of its kind in
The group has done much in Normandy to immortalize and honor American
veterans. This included raising money for and coordinating a memorial to Allied
paratroopers for the 70th anniversary. AVA also created a memorial site at La
Fière, which remembers the Battle of La Fière fought June 6, 1944—touted as the
first fight in the battle for Normandy.
a page of history, a page written with the blood of soldiers and civilians, a
page known by France and the United States of America,” Renaud said during the
site’s inauguration June 9, 2013.
Charles DeGlopper posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his valor during
that battle as part of C Company, 325th Glider Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne
Division. AVA brought the DeGlopper family to Normandy for the ceremony.
is the vice president of AVA. She met her husband, Lilian, in the United States
and moved to his native Normandy in 2001.
enthralled with the stories from Lilian’s family about the German occupation
and their town’s liberation by American troops,” Coupey said.
She and Lilian
participated in ceremonies and events every June. That is how the couple got
involved with AVA. Through the organization, she voices her passion for
“I feel so
honored and privileged to be a part of it all,” Coupey said. “I am so
proud to be an American but am also so proud of my adopted country for all
that France has done throughout the years to honor U.S. veterans.”
Coupey is too
young to have served in WWII. But she says AVA’s partnership with current U.S.
servicemembers and veterans is personally powerful.
“I want Americans to know why I love France so much, and what it does
for American veterans is one of those reasons.”
U.S. Normandie Mémoire et Gratitude, formed in 2005 by a group of volunteers
from Amfreville, France, has goals similar to AVA. It is “dedicated to guarding
the memories of its [France’s] freedom,” volunteer Vivian Roger says.
Like Coupey, Roger—a native North
Carolinian—met her husband in the United States and returned to Normandy with
him in 1992.
“It is important
to keep our history alive and to never forget the cost paid for freedom,” she
said. “Everything we do is for the families and friends and WWII enthusiasts of
all ages and from all walks of life.”
association works side-by-side with veterans service organizations, including
VFW Post 9249—named after DeGlopper—in Grand Island, N.Y.
visiting veterans and their families, offering them food and transportation
from memorial to memorial. The group also researches and collates information
for local historical displays and documentaries. They support a parachuting
team dedicated to memorializing WWII veterans. And they participate in les fleurs
de la mémoire—the practice of laying flowers on graves at
Normandy American Cemetery.
“It is our duty
to keep the memories alive and pass them forward,” Roger says. “All of us.
Freedom is not free. Just because our own country may not be occupied at the
moment, it could someday. We need to work together in peace and harmony with
and for others.”
Plays a Role
June is one of the last opportunities for many of the warriors who fought in Operation Overlord
to revisit the battle sites. So it is vital to honor them one last time while
they are still living. But it is equally important to remember them after they
VFW members in
Normandy are dedicated to capturing the stories of Operation
Overlord veterans and facilitating commemorative activities.
One such member
is Chuck Steiner, a retired Air Force colonel who was assigned to a rescue
station at Anderson Air Force Base on Guam in 1966-67. He understands how
critical it is to remember the sacrifices of others.
service officer for Post 605 in Paris, France, says he is proud to support
commemoration efforts, even though he did not serve in WWII. “I am happy that
this is going on here now. It is important for all veterans.”
Steiner worked with the French government to actively recognize American
veterans. He has helped to collect names of living Operation
Overlord veterans for the French government. He also works
closely with a former Post commander who was part of the invasion, landing on
Utah Beach on Day 3.
Steiner and members of Post 605 will help staff a welcome center in Carentan,
Normandy, some six miles from the landing beaches, for visitors at the
“We should learn
from past history,” Steiner says. “People forget it most of the time.”
As an aside, it
is amazing that after all of these years a VFW Post in Europe can still boast
at least one Normandy vet. “Iron Mike” Murley of Post 8862 in Vicenza, Italy,
jumped into France on D-Day and was awarded the French Legion of Honor last
year at age 90.
continue to pass down through each generation, maintaining a strong oral
tradition. Still, museums must find additional ways to stay relevant.
visitors to learn about the horrors of war is one means of inspiring peace in
future generations. Documenting veterans’ stories before they die is crucial to
Utah Beach’s Musée du Débarquement originally opened in 1964 but underwent
significant renovation and expansion and reopened in 2011. It offers VIP tours
to GIs who lived the history and is currently seeking accounts from those who
landed there. Curators encourage those visitors to tell their stories on camera
for posterity. This will allow future generations to hear the history
museum at Utah Beach opens its doors with two aims,” says Ingrid Anquetil, the
museum’s director. “They are to register as a key location where the duty to
remember is evident and to be a major player in Normandy. This year is an
opportunity for us to confirm our commitment to provide an exceptional heritage
to future generations within an innovative environment.”
With technological advances, the millennial generation is wont to
digitally immortalize history. Museum staffs are working diligently to
incorporate technology into museum exhibits. Touch screens and interactive
displays are being added to entice younger visitors so they can share in an
important time in history.
tourism offices in villages rife with D-Day history offer self-guided walking
tours using touch-screen devices. They are activated by standing near certain
sites and are loaded with GPS tracking systems to keep visitors on the right
These types of
tours include trivia games and personal stories of Operation Overlord told by those who lived
them. This adds a personal touch, showing the depth of French passion for the
Americans who helped liberate their country.
learn more about
each memorial, contact the Normandy Tourist Board, Jerome Mercier-Papin,
or Atout France USA, 825 Third Ave., 29th Floor, New York City, N.Y., 10022,
Photo caption: The Musee du Debarquement at Utah Beach, renovated in 2011, offers VIP tours to veterans and their families. In an effort to maintain their legacy, veterans can record their experiences.
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