Day the ghosts of lost heroes re­joined liv­ing broth­ers

Daily Express - - 75th D-Day Anniversar­y - From Rachael Bletchly at South­sea Com­mon

THEIR pale young faces, wideeyed with fear, flashed up in pho­to­graphs on a huge stage screen and their voices rang out from the pages of di­aries and trea­sured love let­ters.

Seventy-five years ago, 130,000 young men stormed beaches strafed by en­emy fire and parachuted into France to free Europe from Nazi tyranny.

On the first day of that Nor­mandy in­va­sion, 4,500 Al­lied troops were killed.

But yes­ter­day, as a grate­ful na­tion looked on, the ghosts of the lost heroes of D-Day re­joined their sur­viv­ing broth­ers in arms at a touch­ing com­mem­o­ra­tion.

More than 300 vet­er­ans aged between 91 and 101 gath­ered on South­sea Com­mon for an hour of mu­sic, read­ings and re­flec­tion.

The proud men and women, with chests full of medals, won a stand­ing ova­tion from the Queen, Pres­i­dent Trump and other lead­ers.

Ev­ery­one knew this was the last time they would gather in such num­bers to re­mem­ber their fallen com­rades – and it was our last chance to truly thank them for sac­ri­fic­ing so much for our free­dom.

It was a day of high emo­tion and the vet­er­ans’ eyes were mist­ing over from the mo­ment the joint ser­vices band struck up with war­time hits like Pack Up Your Trou­bles and Lili Mar­leen.

But the tears re­ally started to flow when they played Hymn To The Fallen, com­posed by John Wil­liams for the open­ing scenes of movie Sav­ing Pri­vate Ryan. Im­ages of troops land­ing on the beaches – Omaha, Utah, Gold, Sword and Juno – were pro­jected on to the screen of the huge arched stage.

And you could see the de­ter­mi­na­tion, shock and fear writ­ten over their young faces.

Three vet­er­ans shared their tes­ti­monies of D-Day in pre­re­corded mes­sages.

They were Bri­ton Bert Ed­wards, an Able Sea­man on HMS Bel­lona which pro­vided fire sup­port to US troops on Omaha Beach, Bob Roberts, a Cana­dian vet­eran who was the sec­ond man to land on Juno Beach on June 6 and Amer­i­can Eu­gene Deibler, a sergeant in the 501st Air­borne Reg­i­ment who parachuted in be­hind Utah Beach.

Re­call­ing his ac­tions on D-Day, Mr Deibler said: “I don’t re­gret it at all – I went from a boy to a man that day.”

Most of the 300 vet­er­ans in the au­di­ence were those trav­el­ling on the spe­cial Royal Bri­tish Le­gion cruise, which will go on to Nor­mandy to­day.

The event ended with a gun salute from Royal Navy Fri­gate HMS St Albans in the So­lent, a fly­past of 25 mil­i­tary air­craft in­clud­ing a Spit­fire, a Hur­ri­cane, two Her­cules and two Ty­phoons and then a spec­tac­u­lar fi­nale by the Red Ar­rows.

Then the vet­er­ans were treated to lunch and sev­eral chat­ted to the Queen, Prince Charles, Pres­i­dent Trump and First Lady Me­la­nia.

One of them was for­mer Royal Marine Jack Smith, 94, a land­ing craft coxswain who was part of the first wave dur­ing D-Day.

He spent al­most three months on the Nor­mandy beaches, fer­ry­ing in­jured, mu­ni­tions and other cargo while be­ing strafed with bul­lets by Nazi planes.

When he told the Queen how bad things were, she replied: “You don’t have to tell me – I’m from the same gen­er­a­tion!”

Af­ter­wards, Jack said it had been “a thrill” to meet the Queen.

“She’s mar­vel­lous and a real good egg,” he said.

“It means an aw­ful lot to be here – the day re­spects every­body who took part in D-Day.A lot of peo­ple did a lot of good work that day. It re­spects their me­mory and the lads that didn’t come back.”

As the vet­er­ans re­turned to the MV Boudicca, they were cheered on their way by thou­sands of flag­wav­ing locals.

They then took to the decks with flags of their own as the ship was es­corted out of Portsmouth by 11 Royal Navy war­ships and ac­com­pa­nied by a Spit­fire fly­past.

Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May, De­fence Sec­re­tary Penny Mordthe aunt and First Sea Lord Sir Philip Jones also waved from the air­craft car­rier HMS Queen El­iz­a­beth as crew mem­bers lined the decks to wave their caps in a tra­di­tional “Hur­rah!”

At 9pm, the ship paused off the Isle of Wight at “Pic­cadilly Cir­cus” where the D-Day flotilla gath­ered on the even­ing of June 5, 1944.

Lt Gen James Bashall led a mo­ment of re­flec­tion be­fore the Band of the Royal Bri­tish Le­gion played Sun­set.

A vet­eran wells up at the event, at­tended by the Queen, inset

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