For the 79th anniversary of the Normandy beach landing, WW2 vets were brought back to France by The Best Defense Foundation, where they were met with overwhelming applause and appreciation from even the youngest French citizens.
The Best Defense Foundation is a non-profit dedicated to aiding military members and their families. Founded by former NFL Linebacker Donnie Edwards, the foundation strives to take veterans back to their battlefields.
In video posted by journalist Katie Pavlich to Twitter, crowds of young people fill the streets, cheering as Normandy veterans participate in a parade.
Normandy is broadly considered a risky, high-casualty and drastic war effort, but one deemed necessary to free France and Europe from Nazi rule.
On June 3, 1940, Germany bombed Paris, killing 254 people, primarily civilians. Following this attack, Germany established a four-year occupation in France. With an estimated 100,000 German troops on the ground by 1941, daily life in France changed for the average citizen in WW2.
German soldiers were allowed organizaed plunder of goods, seizing an estimated 80 percent of food production. Transportation was disorganized, imports were limited through the creation of trade blockades, fuel shortages became common and a large number of French citizens were taken as prisoners of war. An estimated 75,000 Jewish citizens were removed.
While adults were forced to work in obligatory work service, poverty, malnutrition and changes in education impacted children’s lives the most.
The harsh realities of the war seem clear to today’s French children, who wave American flags in thanks to the troops who liberated what could have been their grandparents.
U.S. Veteran Andrew Negra, who landed on Utah beach in 1944, was amazed at the reception.
“Every place we went, people are cheering, clapping, and they’ve been doing this for I don’t know how many years,” Negra said, according to The Associated Press.
Negra, at 99, is the last surviving member of his battalion. This year marks his first return to Utah Beach. Standing on the sand, Negra stared out at the beach.
“So many we lost. And here I am,” he said.
Edwards spoke to PBS about the trip, and why his foundation works to aid veterans to return to battlefields.
“Nothing is guaranteed,” Edwards said. “So we want to make sure that we do everything we can to get them an incredible and enjoyable experience.”
This year, about 40 veterans were living and able to make the trip to commemorate the anniversary of Normandy. Following a parade in which they were escorted in wheelchairs, the veterans were taken to Sainte-Marie-du-Mont for a ceremony at the U.S. Navy Memorial.
Overlooking Utah beach, the memorial reads: “The Fallen will never be forgotten. The veteran will ever be honored.”