On D-Day 70th anniversary, a moving meeting with two Normandy veterans

On the 70th anniversary of occupied France's invasion by the US, Texan D-Day veterans Robert Bearden (left) and Johnny Marino (right) told their stories of that day at the Texas state history museum in Austin via the Voice of veterans program (whose representative is at the center of that picture).

On the 70th anniversary of occupied France’s invasion by the US, Texan D-Day veterans Robert Bearden (left) and Johnny Marino (right) told their stories of that day at the Texas state history museum in Austin via the Voice of veterans program (whose coordinator, James Crabtree, is at the center of that picture).

My grandparents shared memories of the Spanish civil war and WWII with me, and I’ve met concentration camps survivors when I was a student (it was for a project for my master’s degree in which me and my classmates also visited numerous concentration camps over a week in Poland -quite an experience!). But meeting two D-Day veterans yesterday at the 70th anniversary ceremony organized at the Texas state history museum was very moving for me, a French living in Austin.

The Imax theater was pretty full.

The Imax theater was pretty full.

What’s been amazing from the very first moment Robert Bearden, from the Killeen-Temple area, and Johnny Marino, from Houston, started to talk with the crowd gathered at the Imax theater is their very humble attitude.

IMG_7199“I’d like to thank everyone who came here today to help us commemorate that anniversary,” started Marino. “It’s a great honor to say your parents and grandparents now helped us on that day.”

What also impressed me a lot is Bearden and Marino’s capacity to joke and laugh at the terrible experiences they lived in Normandy and beyond. I think the only occasion the conversation became sad is when Marino told us about his experience liberating a concentration camp.

He was also serious when answering my question on whether he had been back to France.

“I’ve never been back. But I’d like to point out that the French people helped us. The French farmers in Normandy fed us, and their food was much better than the Us army’s one.”

That testimony cheered me up.

Just like Robert Bearden’s joke on “not jumping” from the airplane when he visited France again after 1944, and his comment on the French “being worth” liberating.

At the end of the event, participants lined up to purchase Robert Bearden's book: "To D-Day and Back : Adventures with the 507th Parachute Infantry", and have it signed, while others enjoyed the Voice of veterans exhibit that will be on display outside the Imax theater while the 3D movie "D-Day: Normandy 1944" will be shown, until November.

At the end of the event, participants lined up to purchase Robert Bearden’s book: “To D-Day and Back : Adventures with the 507th Parachute Infantry”, and have it signed, while others enjoyed the Voice of veterans exhibit that will be on display outside the Imax theater while the 3D movie “D-Day: Normandy 1944” will be shown, until November.

But I felt sad that Johnny Marino didn’t have a chance to visit Normandy again and pay his respect to his fellow US soldiers after landing there on June 6th 1944.

I just looked up whether France had a program to help US D-Day veterans visit the D-Day memorials and American cemetery in Normandy, but all I could find is a program for the families of the deads. Being a veteran of a French war gives access to some benefits, but not help to travel to the battle sites.

In the US, that work of honoring WWII veterans by helping them travel to Normandy is left to organizations such as the Daughters of World War II. I encourage you to donate to the nonprofit.

You can also donate online to the Voice of veterans program.

Take advantage of visiting that website to listen to Robert Bearden’s and Johnny Marino’s stories:

http://www.glo.texas.gov/voices-of-veterans/interviews/bearden-robert.html

http://www.glo.texas.gov/voices-of-veterans/interviews/marino.html

A segment of Robert Bearden’s interviewed was edited with music and photographs of that time.

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