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Commemorating the 80th anniversary of the D-Day invasion

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The June 6, 1944, D-Day invasion of Nazi-occupied France was unprecedented in scale and audacity, using the largest-ever armada of ships, troops, planes and vehicles to punch a hole in Adolf Hitler’s defenses in western Europe and change the course of World War II.

The 80th anniversary of the Normandy invasion is Thursday, and with it comes commemorations on the beaches of France where allied troops landed. D-Day veterans and other dignitaries will gather to remember the thousands of lives lost during the invasion, but they will also remember the lives they saved.

— Associated Press contributed

In June 1944, a Tribune correspondent set the scene ahead of the ‘greatest invasion ever attempted’

Chicago Tribune war correspondent John “Beaver” Thompson during World War II, circa May 1944. (Chicago Tribune archive)

AT AN INVASION PORT, Somewhere in England, June 6. — Thousands of soldiers of the American army are pouring down the quaysides onto landing craft or waiting their turn as we sit here watching the beginning of the greatest invasion ever attempted.

Spread before us lie hundreds of warships, loaded transports, and landing craft of all kinds awaiting orders. Other ships attached to this force already have moved to the assembly area.

What we still can see is staggering.

Local D-Day vet returning to Normandy for invasion’s 80th anniversary. ‘I’ve never forgotten what happened there.’

 

Wartime photo of Dick Rung, a 99-year-old D-Day veteran who plans to return to Normandy for the 80th anniversary. (Family photo)
Wartime photo of Dick Rung, a 99-year-old D-Day veteran who plans to return to Normandy for the 80th anniversary. (Family photo)

Death loomed all around the young U.S. Navy sailor as his ship approached the shores of Nazi-occupied France just after daybreak on June 6, 1944, what would forever after be known as D-Day.

Ninety-nine-year-old Richard “Dick” Rung of Carol Stream recalled the Germans waited from atop the cliffs that encased the fiercely protected crescent-shaped Omaha Beach, one of five landing sites of the Normandy Invasion.

An order to troops from Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower underscored the importance of the mission, which was code-named Operation Overlord.

A Black medic wounded on D-Day saved dozens of lives. He’s finally being posthumously honored

 

FILE - Steve Woodson speaks during a medal ceremony for his father, Cpl. Waverly B. Woodson Jr., to be posthumously honored with the Bronze Star and Combat Medic Badge, Oct. 11, 2023 at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. Woodson Jr., a medic who was part of the only Black combat unit to take part in the D-Day invasion of France, is being posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. It's the military's second highest honor. The announcement was made Monday, June 3, 2024, by Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf, File)
Steve Woodson speaks during a medal ceremony for his father, Cpl. Waverly Woodson Jr., to be posthumously honored with the Bronze Star and Combat Medic Badge, Oct. 11, 2023 at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.  (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf, File)

WASHINGTON — Waverly Woodson Jr., a medic who was part of the only Black combat unit to take part in the D-Day invasion of France during World War II, is being posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in recognition of the heroism and determination he showed treating troops under heavy enemy fire.

The Distinguished Service Cross is the second-highest honor that can be bestowed on a member of the Army and is awarded for extraordinary heroism.

William A. Ryan: Trip to Normandy evokes a time of action for Illinois World War II veteran

Frank Kohnke, 98, at Medina Nursing and Rehab on May 28, 2024, in Durand, Illinois. Kohnke enlisted as a 16-year-old, later serving as a paratrooper in World War II. He is traveling to Normandy, France, for the 80th anniversary of D-Day. (Stacey Wescott/Chicago Tribune)
Frank Kohnke, 98, at Medina Nursing and Rehab on May 28, 2024, in Durand, Illinois. Kohnke enlisted as a 16-year-old, later serving as a paratrooper in World War II. He is traveling to Normandy, France, for the 80th anniversary of D-Day. (Stacey Wescott/Chicago Tribune)

In a nursing home in Durand about three hours northwest of Chicago, on the edge of a small town nicknamed the “Village of Volunteers,” three World War II veterans are talking about the upcoming 80th anniversary of D-Day.

It’s hard not to get excited — one of them will be traveling to Normandy for the occasion. But increasingly frail at 98, Frank Kohnke is a bit anxious about the upcoming trip.

“What if everyone wants me to tell war stories?” he asks. “Sometimes I forget the details. All I really know is I’m so, so proud of what we accomplished.”

Biden will mark D-Day anniversary in France as Western alliances face threats at home and abroad

President Joe Biden is welcomed at Orly Airport in Paris to begin a multi-day trip of diplomatic meetings and commemorations of the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings, on Wednesday, June 5, 2024. (Kenny Holston/The New York Times)
President Joe Biden is welcomed at Orly Airport in Paris to begin a multi-day trip of diplomatic meetings and commemorations of the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings, on Wednesday, June 5, 2024. (Kenny Holston/The New York Times)

PARIS — United States President Joe Biden will mark the 80th anniversary of the D-Day invasion in France this week as he tries to demonstrate steadfast support for European security at a time when some allies fear Donald Trump threatens to upend American commitments if he wins another term in the White House.

The trip comes as the deadliest fighting on the continent since World War II continues in Ukraine and allied countries struggle to find ways to turn the tide against Russia, which has recently gained ground on the battlefield.

Cruise to northern France commemorates 80th anniversary of D-Day invasion

The
The Les Braves monument, dedicated to the American soldiers who landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day, is seen on Omaha Beach in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, Normandy, on April 11, 2024. (Thibault Camus/AP)

As the last notes of “The Star-Spangled Banner” faded away, retired Lt. Col. Max Torrence held himself as erect as the young soldier he once was as he placed a wreath at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in northern France on March 30 to commemorate the upcoming 80th anniversary of D-Day.

On June 6, 1944, the Allied powers invaded five Normandy beachheads: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword, in an operation code-named Overlord, eventually liberating France from Nazi control and changing the course of World War II.

In France, D-Day evokes both the joys of liberation and the pain of Normandy’s 20,000 civilian dead

FILE - A view of the town hall of Cherbourg, France, on June 28, 1944, during the ceremony held immediately after the Americans had entered the town. At this ceremony the Normandy port was turned back to the French by the Americans. (AP Photo, File)
A view of the town hall in Cherbourg, France, on June 28, 1944, during the ceremony held immediately after the Americans entered the town. At this ceremony the Normandy port was turned back to the French by the Americans. (AP Photo, File)

CARENTAN-LES-MARAIS, France — Shortly after D-Day in 1944, the American soldiers heading out to more fighting against Adolf Hitler’s forces couldn’t help but notice the hungry French boy by the side of the road, hoping for handouts.

One by one, the men fished fragrant, brightly-colored spheres from their pockets and deposited them in Yves Marchais’ hands. The 6-year-old boy had never seen the strange fruits before, growing up in Nazi-occupied France, where food was rationed and terror was everywhere.

Thrilled with his bounty, the young Yves counted them all — 35 — and dashed home for his first taste of oranges.

A mass parachute jump over Normandy kicks off commemorations for the 80th anniversary of D-Day

D-Day veteran Seymour Tipper salutes as he is greeted at Charles de Gaulle airport, Saturday, June 1, 2024 in Roissy, north of Paris. More than sixty American veterans arrive for ceremonies marking D-Day 80th anniversary. (AP Photo/Thomas Padilla)
D-Day veteran Seymour Tipper salutes as he is greeted at Charles de Gaulle Airport on Saturday, June 1, 2024 in Roissy, north of Paris. More than 60 American veterans arrive for ceremonies marking D-Day 80th anniversary. (AP Photo/Thomas Padilla)

CARENTAN-LES-MARAIS, France — Parachutists jumping from World War II-era planes hurled themselves Sunday into now peaceful Normandy skies where war once raged, heralding a week of ceremonies for the fast-disappearing generation of Allied troops who fought from D-Day beaches 80 years ago to Adolf Hitler’s fall, helping free Europe of his tyranny.

All along the Normandy coastline — where then-young soldiers from across the United States, Britain, Canada and other Allied nations waded ashore through hails of fire on five beaches on June 6, 1944 — French officials, grateful Normandy survivors and other admirers are saying “merci” but also goodbye.

The ever-dwindling number of veterans in their late 90s and older who are coming back to remember fallen friends and their history-changing exploits are the last.

Column: D-Day’s historic importance remembered as 80th anniversary approaches 

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower visits paratroopers, including Bill Hayes, at center behind Ike's right hand, in England on June 5, 1944, moments before the troops boarded transport planes bound for Normandy. (AP)
Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower visits paratroopers, including Bill Hayes, at center behind Ike’s right hand, in England on June 5, 1944, moments before the troops boarded transport planes bound for Normandy. (AP)

From ancient times, military professionals have rightly regarded amphibious invasions as especially challenging. We recognize and honor the 80th anniversary of the greatest such operation, the Allies’ invasion of France in World War II on June 6, 1944 – D-Day.

The Normandy invasion combined thorough planning, mobilizing vast materiel and great imagination. When the enormous operation underway was announced, a U.S. newspaper highlighted a front-page drawing of invading soldiers cascading into Europe, as a terrified Hitler fled.

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