Charles Shay, a 96-year-old U.S. Army veteran, was the only veteran to attend a D-Day anniversary remembrance ceremony in Carentan, France on Saturday, 77 years after U.S., British, Canadian and French forces landed on the beaches of Normandy and parachuted inland to invade France.
The New York Post reported Shay is also expected to be the lone veteran to attend Sunday’s June 6 anniversary day ceremony at the Normandy American Cemetery of Colleville-sur-Mer.
Shay is of Native American descent from Indian Island, Maine. He took part in the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944 as a 19-years-old U.S. Army medic. He now lives in the country he helped liberate from Nazi German occupation.
Shay’s lone presence at the D-Day ceremonies is due in part to coronavirus-related travel restrictions. The Associated Press reported travel restrictions have barred other surviving participants of the battle as well as the families of the 4,414 allied service members who died storming into Normandy.
2,501 of those killed on D-Day were Americans. About 5,000 more allied troops were wounded in the fighting on that single day. Several thousand German troops were killed or wounded in the fighting that day.
This is the second year in a row coronavirus restrictions have limited those wishing to commemorate the landings in Normandy.
“We have no visitors coming to France this year for two years now. And I hope it will be over soon,” Shay told the Associated Press during the ceremony in Carentan on Saturday.
France’s coronavirus related travel restrictions are due to be lifted next week, but that will be too late for the D-Day anniversary ceremonies.
The limited attendance at this years D-Day anniversary ceremonies is also a reflection of the dwindling number of veterans remaining who served on that historic day.
The Associated Press reported only one veteran remains from the French commando unit that joined the allied forces to invade Normandy. Only about 2,600 U.S. D-Day veterans are still alive today, according to The National D-Day Memorial’s latest estimates.
Making up for the limitations on attendance from veterans of the D-Day fighting, local residents are reportedly attending in greater numbers than usu, 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, said, “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.”
“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.”