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Charles Shay was the only veteran at a ceremony in Carentan, where paratroopers landed in the early hours of D-Day, when the small French town marked the 77th anniversary of the epic World War II invasion Friday.
He is also expected to be the sole representative of the more than 150,000 allied troops who landed on Normandy’s beaches at Sunday’s anniversary day ceremony at the Normandy American Cemetery of Colleville-sur-Mer.
The 96-year-old Native American from Indian Island, Maine, now lives in the country he helped liberate from the Nazis as a 19-year-old Army medic.
Travel restrictions due to the pandemic are preventing other vets and families of the 4,414 who died in the battle from making the trip, The Associated Press reported.
“We have no visitors coming to France … for two years now,” Shay said. “And I hope it will be over soon.”
With the number of D-Day survivors dwindling — only one remains from the French commando unit that joined the allied troops from the U.S., Britain, Canada and other countries in storming Normandy’s beaches — Shay’s lone representation is even more poignant. The National D-Day Memorial estimates about 2,600 U.S. D-Day veterans survive.
France is planning to open its borders to visitors next week, too late for the D-Day anniversary. Most public events in the country were canceled because of COVID, and those being held have just a few dignitaries and guests.
To counter that, local residents are attending in greater numbers, some arriving in restored jeeps and dressed in old uniforms and creating a celebratory atmosphere at the commemorations.
Pascal Leclerc, a member of the Remember Omaha Beach 44 group, shared the same joy. “We missed it a lot. That’s just fun, happiness, and also being able to pay tribute to all the veterans. That’s the main goal,” he said.
“In France, people who remember these men, they kept them close to their heart,” Shay said. “And they remember what they did for them. And I don’t think the French people will ever forget.”
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