9,387 graves overlook Omaha Beach; the world pays tribute

(WVUE) - Across the United States, Americans paused for the 70th Anniversary of D-Day.

Many people who gave thanks Friday did so because the American invasion of France not only turned the tide during WWII, but it saved their lives and homes.

One of the things that impresses you the most when you return to Normandy and this entire area is the number of people that come here to celebrate. Some return year-after-year to make sure we don't forget the Americans; we don't forget the English, the French and the Canadians who sacrificed so much in these battles in France.

So many crosses. So many young men who died on foreign soil just as they reach adulthood.

For some, life ended within seconds of touching the sand. Others fought their way across the French countryside for days, weeks or months before luck ran out. 9,387 graves lay on a plateau overlooking Omaha Beach,

"Robert O'Connor, he was a lieutenant in a B-17," said Jacky Emory.

Emory, who lives in the town of Lemans in Normandy, has carried 12 roses to the American cemetery every D-Day anniversary for the past 21 years.

"Richard Peterson was in the same plane," said Emory. "Because it's, for me, a means to say thank you to our liberators."

He says thank you to fallen airmen, the crews of B-17 bombers who were shot down near his hometown. Emory has been able to track down their relatives

"I'm in touch with all the families of all these men," said Emory. "I knew the family and I have been in touch with all the family of all the men and let the family know that we don't forget the boys."

Robert O'Connor was the pilot of one B-17. Seven of this crew bailed out. The French townspeople near the crash site believe O'Connor stayed in the plane to steer it away from their homes. O'Connor and his bombardier, Richard Peterson, were killed.

"After the D-Day was the beginning of the liberty for France," explained Emory.

Merrill Baker from New York and David Colinan from Rhode Island walk across the La Fiere Bridge, the site of a bloody D-Day battle. Baker's uncle died fighting in France.

"I don't want the French to forget the sacrifices the Americans made to liberate them," said Baker. "And if coming here and reminding them will do that, then I'll keep coming here and I'll keep honoring my uncle and the men that he fought with."

David Colinan's father, who fought in WWI, volunteered for WWII. He also died in France at the age of 45.

"I was 12-years-old when I lost my father, so I knew him well," said Colinan. "The loss goes beyond their life. It affects families, it affects families for generations. It's a tremendous loss"

Friday, aging comrades, relatives and people who have their own unique connection to a fallen serviceman and others whose lives may have been changed by brave deeds are here to say thanks.

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