Coronavirus casts clouds over D-Day commemoration in Normandy

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The men stood alone on Omaha Beach in the early hours of Saturday, dressed in vintage combat clothing – with 6 feet between them.They looked across the water where hundreds of thousands of soldiers – American, British and Canadian – landed on June 6, 1944 to start the battle that changed the course of the Second World War.

The rally to mark the anniversary of the invasion, which simply became D-Day, was extraordinarily small, a few dozen – driven by fear of the coronavirus, reported the Associated Press.

Every two years, crowds appeared to mark the liberation from Nazi oppression.

Last year, on the occasion of the 75th anniversary, tens of thousands of people from all over the world flocked to the French beaches of Normandy to encourage the decreasing number of veterans of the landing.

Billie Bishop, of San Jose, California, holds a photo of his uncle, World War II soldier Billie Bishop as he prepares to lay a rose in the sea during a 76th anniversary ceremony of the day J in Saint Laurent sur Mer, Normandy, France, Saturday, June 6, 2020.
Billie Bishop, of San Jose, California, holds a photo of his uncle, World War II soldier Billie Bishop as he prepares to lay a rose in the sea during a 76th anniversary ceremony of the day J in Saint Laurent sur Mer, Normandy, France, Saturday, June 6, 2020.AP

Charles Shay was among those troops that stormed Omaha Beach, a 19-year-old army doctor who found himself avoiding machine gun fire and detonating shells.

“I’m very sad now,” said Shay, now 95, at the PA. “Because of the virus, no one can be here. I would love to see more of us here. ”

After the war, Shay settled near the beaches that came to define his life. His house is the reason he was practically the only American survivor to stand on the sand on Saturday – his veteran comrades were unable to enter due to the pandemic.

In better times, the French have deployed vintage jeep and trucks – their rumble was heard for miles. On Saturday, the roads were deserted around Saint-Laurent-Sur-Mer, a town near Omaha Beach.

Adrian Cox, a British expatriate and adviser to Arromaches, lays flowers in the sea to commemorate the 76th anniversary of the landing at dawn on Gold Beach on June 06, 2020 in Arromanches-les-Bains, France.
Adrian Cox, a British expatriate and councilor for Arromaches, lays flowers in the sea to commemorate the 76th anniversary of the dawn landing on Gold Beach on June 06, 2020 in Arromanches-les-Bains, France.Getty Images

“It’s a June 6 like no other,” said Mayor Philippe Laillier, who organized a small commemoration at the Omaha Beach monument. “But we still had to do something. We had to mark it. “

The pandemic has taken its toll worldwide since the end of last year, killing nearly 400,000 people – a quarter of all deaths in the United States – and devastating economies, according to figures.

Seniors, like veterans of D-Day survivors, are particularly at risk of being infected with the coronavirus. Even the younger generations who show up every year have been prevented from traveling to Normandy.

Ivan Thierry is a local who earns his living by catching bar around the wrecks that still litter the waters.

Thierry attends the celebration every year – and this year has been no different. He held Old Glory as a tribute.

Men dressed in World War II uniforms in the United States stand behind the flowers left at the Braves monument after a ceremony for the 76th anniversary of the landing in Saint Laurent sur Mer, Normandy, France, Saturday June 6, 2020.
Men dressed in World War II uniforms in the United States stand behind the flowers left at the Braves monument after a ceremony for the 76th anniversary of the landing in Saint Laurent sur Mer, Normandy, France, Saturday, June 6, 2020.AP

“There is no one here,” said Thierry, 62, at the PA. “Even if there are only a dozen of us, we are here to commemorate.”

In Washington, President Trump remembered the day with a tweet welcoming who has served so valiantly.

“Today we stop to remember and honor all the brave soldiers, sailors and airmen whose selfless sacrifice catalyzed the deliverance of the oppressed and guaranteed freedom for decades to come. May we always be faithful to the virtues and principles for which this generation of D-Day – the largest generation – paid so dearly. “



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