After eight days in France to commemorate the 79th anniversary of D-Day, World War II veteran and Frederick resident Carl Felton is ready to come home.
“It was just a happy, happy time here,” 97-year-old Felton said during an interview Wednesday. He is scheduled to return to Maryland on Thursday.
Felton traveled with 42 other veterans last week to Normandy to attend the official commemoration of D-Day on June 6.
Felton was scheduled to give a speech during the event, but cold and windy weather cut the ceremony short; only a few people spoke, Matthew LaDuc, Felton’s caretaker, said.
Instead, Felton was to give his speech during a farewell dinner on Wednesday, talking about the relationship and kinship between the United States and France.
Felton and LaDuc practiced the speech every night leading up to the event, LaDuc said. Before giving the speech, Felton said, he felt good.
“I feel very relaxed and humbled and happy to be able to do that because [France is] such a deserving country,” he said.
Felton joined the Navy in 1943 at age 17. After learning Morse code, he became a signalman on the HMS Ceres, which was in charge of directing traffic to and from Omaha Beach on Normandy’s coast.
On June 6, 1944, his ship left for Normandy and took heavy fire. Ships around Felton sank. He was on a bridge, sending and receiving messages.
He was stationed at Omaha Beach throughout the summer of 1944, until he left for Cherbourg in the northwestern corner of France to help rebuild a port.
Throughout the trip, the group visited cemeteries and schools across Normandy. LaDuc visited the headstone of his grandfather, Harmon LaDuc, who died in World War II and was buried in Normandy.
It was going to be a visit with just him and Felton, but it ended up becoming a solemn entourage with other members on the trip who heard of LaDuc’s personal tie. It made the experience special, he said.
“Then, yesterday, when the ceremony was going on, I snuck away and … [Felton’s friends] were waiting there for me with a bouquet. They had a bouquet of flowers,” he said.
Four years ago, when Felton first returned to Normandy, he befriended a French family with whom he stayed in contact once he returned to the United States. They exchanged letters and Christmas gifts and video chatted.
He reunited with them during this trip.
“Every single day, they followed, they had the itinerary and they were there at every single spot we made,” he said. “There was nothing but care. Every time we looked at one another, we cried. It was a feeling that grew more and more and more over the last [four] years.”
This wasn’t the only time that Felton experienced such strong emotions. On Wednesday, the group visited a school and talked to children of all grades who asked the veterans questions.
He was struck by how joyous the children were.
“The smiles of happiness shown on the children was positively unbelievable,” he said. “They’re just unbelievable. I was so happy, happy, happy that I was almost speechless, quite frankly.”
There were many expressions of love and admiration throughout the trip, he said, especially in talking about the relationship between the U.S. and France.
That sentiment was there when they joked and laughed, like when Felton realized that a French baked potato with chicken was not the same as an American baked potato with chicken. He was baffled when he was served the French dish, which he said was all mixed together rather than separate.
He and his French friends laughed about the differences between their countries’ cuisines.
It reminded him of 1944, he said.
“It reminded me, in a sense, several years ago on the British ship HMS Ceres, we used to joke around,” he said. “[The British] would say to us, for example, ‘You people talk funny,’ so we would answer and say, ‘No, it’s you people that talk funny,’ and joking, laughing.”
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