WRAL-TV Reporter Bryan Mims traveled to Bedford, Virginia, to bring live reports from the National D-Day Memorial on the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy during World War II on Friday, June 6, 2014. He shared his thoughts on his experience with capcom:
Many are in wheelchairs now, and their postures are bent. They need walking canes and hearing aids and reminders to take their medication. Even the strongest and most valiant among us grow old. After the war is won and the medals are earned and the world’s murderous menaces are defeated, the years march on, an unstoppable force from which there is no retreat.
These men – and women, too – survived the shellfire, bullets, mines, explosions, captivity, exposure and vomit-inducing fear to come home, start a baby boom and grow into great-grandparents. To see them gathered Friday at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia, brought a lump to my throat and a redness to my eyes. This may be the last World War Two ceremony they’ll ever attend, and I had the distinct honor to be in their company.
I have heard many beautiful renditions of the Star-Spangled Banner from famous singers, but the anthem sounded especially stirring with this chorus of World War Two veterans, their voices deep and off-key and earnest. The National D-Day Memorial, ringed by the Blue Ridge Mountains, is one of the loveliest monuments to our war heroes I have ever seen. Thousands of people filled the great plaza Friday, all facing the granite arch etched with the words “Operation Overloard.” It stands so imposingly, much like that noble show of force 70 years ago.
These veterans are giants to me. Shaking their hands, I felt a real, tangible, human link to a defining moment in world history, when liberty was at maximum peril. I met a couple of sailors from Raleigh who were on the front lines of the Normandy invasion, just off the beach where the seawater roiled with bullets and blood. I met a couple of paratroopers who jumped out of airplanes, into the carnage of Normandy, having no doubt this was it – the end. Robert Ivey, a 19-year-old paratrooper from Lumberton, had already told his family he likely wasn’t coming home. When he stepped out of that C-47 on June 8, 1944, two days after D-Day, it must have felt like a suicide mission.
But he survived, only to be captured by the Nazis and held as a prisoner of war for a year. When I met Ivey at the 70th anniversary ceremony in Bedford, he wore thick fit-over sun shades, but I could tell his eyes were blinking back tears. He paused and his lip quivered at the memory of it all. He lost many comrades in battle, which led to many years of imprisonment by guilt. He tried to lock the memories away in some private vault of his soul, but they broke through in nightmares and bouts of depression.
He told me as he’s grown old, it’s easier to talk about the horror and heroism of the war, though none of these old warriors feel comfortable with being called heroes. All of them will tell you that they were doing a duty, that they were scared out of their minds, and that they wanted to come home. But courage is doing what needs to be done in spite of enormous fear. Every one of them looked into the fog and fury of war – and went in. They stormed onto the beach. They jumped out of the plane. They climbed the cliffs. They confronted the enemy.
It’s both heady and humbling to meet these veterans, and I am immeasurably grateful that our lives could intersect. We live in a time when World War Two is not exclusively the province of history. The courageous souls who liberated Europe and the Pacific – a great swath of our planet – still walk among us. But they’re slow of foot and need help getting around. The years are marching on, and in the next decade nearly all of this great generation will belong to history, their voices silenced.
I do not come from a military family, nor have I served in the armed forces. I will never know what it’s like to charge onto a beach, to jump out of a plane into the hellfire of battle, to go months – years – far away from home. It’s unfathomable. The world is not a safe and static place. There will always be tyrants and extremists determined to conquer it. Marking the 70th anniversary of the mighty endeavor that was D-Day, I am eternally thankful for the men and women in those wheelchairs who stood tall against towering odds. They helped ensure that liberty, like time, keeps marching on.
WRAL-TV put together a live half-hour special, including Mims’ reports, in honor of the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion which aired on Friday evening:
Thanks to WRAL-TV’s Bryan Mims for this capcom story & to WRAL.com for these capcom photos.