Almost exactly 74 years after the Second Ranger Battalion climbed the 100-foot cliffs of France’s Pointe du Hoc in the face of German fire on June 6, 1944, veterans from the so-called Greatest Generation gathered in France to retell their stories of “sacrifices and courage.”
Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, fewer than 600,000 are alive today and those who fought the battles are now in their 90s – something Tim Gray, founder of the nonprofit World War II Foundation, thinks about every day.
“We’re in a time right now where we’re saying goodbye to so many of that generation,” Gray said.
So on Friday night, Gray and his foundation gave WWII veterans a chance to reunite with their brothers in arms, meet the actors who played them in the film “Band of Brothers” and tell their stories in their own words.
“Our foundation wants to make sure that these younger generations understand the stories, the sacrifices and courage that went into winning WWII,” Gray said.
The event at Utah Beach Museum in Sainte-Marie-du-Mont was a fundraiser for the World War II Foundation and a chance for aging veterans to return to France 74 years after the daring D-Day landings.
For Frank Kaszuba, who served in the 28th Infantry Division as it pushed across France in the weeks after D-Day, it was his first, and possibly his last, chance to go back to Normandy. He was excited to mingle with his fellow veterans and tell his story.
“It’s great for the younger generation to learn about this so (this kind of war) never happens again,” Kaszuba said.
Gray has used veteran voices in the more than 20 documentary films he’s produced about World War II. The films revisit some of the war’s most historic campaigns, from the D-Day landings to the Doolittle Raids of 1942. The WWII Foundation receives private and corporate funding and donates their materials to public television stations, schools and libraries.
“No two stories are ever the same,” Gray said. “We’re not going to get to them all, but we want to get the ones that will motivate younger people to want to learn more.”
Retired Master Sgt. Charles Shay, who earned a Silver Star and Bronze Star when he was a medic with the 1st Infantry Division on Omaha Beach, said he’s been a regular visitor to Normandy since 2009, the 65th anniversary of the landings.
“I’ve been coming back every year since, apart from one year,” said Shay. “I try to honor the men that paid the ultimate price. I try not to forget them. I have a very good friend who was killed on D-Day. I was the last man to see him alive and treat him. I finally met his family two years ago. They live in New Jersey, and they were very happy to meet me, because we were together on Omaha Beach.”
Dale Dye, who acted in “Band of Brothers” and “Saving Private Ryan,” has been working with the World War II Foundation for several years now, narrating a documentary and lending his celebrity to the foundation’s charity drives. Dye, a Vietnam veteran who earned three Purple Heart Medals and a Bronze Star with a combat “V” device for valor, says he does it to honor the dwindling numbers of World War II veterans.
“Most of [the WWII veterans] are very humble, they remain humble. They’re not asking for a round of applause, but they deserve it,” Dye said. “Anything the rest of us as survivors can do to say we wouldn’t be where we are today without them is proper. They’re a whole different breed of cat than the kids today, and I think they still have something to teach, to admire.”
© 2018 the Stars and Stripes
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.