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On sad anniversary, few to mourn the D-Day dead in Normandy

Saturday’s D-Day anniversary will be one of the loneliest remembrances ever, as the coronavirus pandemic is keeping almost everyone away.

Virus_Outbreak_EU_D-Day_77841 FILE – In this Thursday, June 6, 2019 file photo, President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron and Brigitte Macron, watch a flyover during a ceremony to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day at the American Normandy cemetery, in Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, France. In sharp contrast to the 75th anniversary of D-Day, this year’s 76th will be one of the loneliest remembrances ever, as the coronavirus pandemic is keeping nearly everyone from traveling.

AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File

Virus_Outbreak_EU_D-Day_59750 FILE – In this Wednesday, June 5, 2019 file photo, a WWII enthusiast watches French and British parachutists jumping during a commemorative parachute jump over Sannerville, Normandy, France. In sharp contrast to the 75th anniversary of D-Day, this year’s 76th will be one of the loneliest remembrances ever, as the coronavirus pandemic is keeping nearly everyone from traveling.

AP Photo/Thibault Camus, File

FILE – In this Thursday, June 6, 2019 file photo, bagpipers play during an event to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day in Arromanches, Normandy, France. In sharp contrast to the 75th anniversary of D-Day, this year’s 76th will be one of the loneliest remembrances ever, as the coronavirus pandemic is keeping nearly everyone from traveling.

AP Photo/Thibault Camus, File

Virus_Outbreak_EU_D-Day_63786 FILE – In this Monday, June, 3, 2019, file photo, World War II veterans from the United States salute as they pose in front of Les Braves monument at Omaha Beach in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, Normandy, France. In sharp contrast to the 75th anniversary of D-Day, this year’s 76th will be one of the loneliest remembrances ever, as the coronavirus pandemic is keeping nearly everyone from traveling.

AP Photo/Rafael Yaghobzadeh, File

Virus_Outbreak_EU_D-Day_77210 FILE – In this Thursday, June 6, 2019 file photo, people walk among vintage World War II vehicles parked on the beach during events to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day in Arromanches, Normandy, France. In sharp contrast to the 75th anniversary of D-Day, this year’s 76th will be one of the loneliest remembrances ever, as the coronavirus pandemic is keeping nearly everyone from traveling.

AP Photo/Thibault Camus, File

In this photo taken on Thursday, June 4, 2020, French comic characters Asterix and Obelix are painted on on a wall with the message ‘we are strong against the virus’ in Sainte-Honorine-des-Pertes, Normandy, France. In sharp contrast to the 75th anniversary of D-Day, this year’s 76th will be one of the loneliest remembrances ever, as the coronavirus pandemic is keeping nearly everyone from traveling.

AP Photo/Virginia Mayo

Virus_Outbreak_EU_D-Day_52063 In this photo taken on Thursday, June 4, 2020, Eric Angely sits on a seawall in front of Omaha Beach, in WWII period dress near his parked WWII American Jeep, in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, Normandy, France. In sharp contrast to the 75th anniversary of D-Day, this year’s 76th will be one of the loneliest remembrances ever, as the coronavirus pandemic is keeping nearly everyone from traveling.

AP Photo/Virginia Mayo

Virus_Outbreak_EU_D-Day_87219 In this photo taken on Thursday, June 4, 2020, two people stop to look at an information board at Omaha Beach in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, Normandy, France. In sharp contrast to the 75th anniversary of D-Day, this year’s 76th will be one of the loneliest remembrances ever, as the coronavirus pandemic is keeping nearly everyone from traveling.

AP Photo/Virginia Mayo

Virus_Outbreak_EU_D-Day_94791 In this photo taken on Thursday, June 4, 2020, a man walks by the US flag and a monument called Les Braves, by sculptor Anilore Banon, at Omaha Beach in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, Normandy, France. In sharp contrast to the 75th anniversary of D-Day, this year’s 76th will be one of the loneliest remembrances ever, as the coronavirus pandemic is keeping nearly everyone from traveling.

AP Photo/Virginia Mayo

In this photo taken on Thursday, June 4, 2020, A man and woman in US military jackets stand in front of Omaha Beach in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, Normandy, France. In sharp contrast to the 75th anniversary of D-Day, this year’s 76th will be one of the loneliest remembrances ever, as the coronavirus pandemic is keeping nearly everyone from traveling.

AP Photo/Virginia Mayo

In this photo taken on Thursday, June 4, 2020, a gate is locked and a sign reads ‘closed’ at a popular restaurant in Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, France. In sharp contrast to the 75th anniversary of D-Day, this year’s 76th will be one of the loneliest remembrances ever, as the coronavirus pandemic is keeping nearly everyone from traveling.

AP Photo/Virginia Mayo

In this photo taken on Thursday, June 4, 2020, faded wooden crosses, some with messages, rests at a monument near Omaha Beach, in Vierville-sur-Mer, Normandy, France. In sharp contrast to the 75th anniversary of D-Day, this year’s 76th will be one of the loneliest remembrances ever, as the coronavirus pandemic is keeping nearly everyone from traveling.

AP Photo/Virginia Mayo

Virus_Outbreak_EU_D-Day_51766 In this photo taken on Thursday, June 4, 2020, a sign reads ‘annual closure’ on a restaurant at Omaha Beach in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, Normandy, France. In sharp contrast to the 75th anniversary of D-Day, this year’s 76th will be one of the loneliest remembrances ever, as the coronavirus pandemic is keeping nearly everyone from traveling.

AP Photo/Virginia Mayo

Virus_Outbreak_EU_D-Day_95806 In this photo taken on Thursday, June 4, 2020, French and US flags decorate a house front near Omaha Beach in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, Normandy, France. In sharp contrast to the 75th anniversary of D-Day, this year’s 76th will be one of the loneliest remembrances ever, as the coronavirus pandemic is keeping nearly everyone from traveling.

AP Photo/Virginia Mayo

Virus_Outbreak_EU_D-Day_01656 In this photo taken on Thursday, June 4, 2020, French and US flags sit behind a window in a beachfront house near Omaha Beach in Vierville-sur-Mer Normandy, France. In sharp contrast to the 75th anniversary of D-Day, this year’s 76th will be one of the loneliest remembrances ever, as the coronavirus pandemic is keeping nearly everyone from traveling.

AP Photo/Virginia Mayo

Virus_Outbreak_EU_D-Day_08088 In this photo taken on Thursday, June 4, 2020, wreaths and flags sit in front of the Ever Forward memorial near Omaha Beach, in Vierville-sur-Mer, Normandy, France. In sharp contrast to the 75th anniversary of D-Day, this year’s 76th will be one of the loneliest remembrances ever, as the coronavirus pandemic is keeping nearly everyone from traveling.

AP Photo/Virginia Mayo

Virus_Outbreak_EU_D-Day_66451 In this photo taken on Thursday, June 4, 2020, Arrows are painted on the ground to guide visitors to walk only one way, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, at the Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, France. In sharp contrast to the 75th anniversary of D-Day, this year’s 76th will be one of the loneliest remembrances ever, as the coronavirus pandemic is keeping nearly everyone from traveling.

AP Photo/Virginia Mayo

In this photo taken on Thursday, June 4, 2020, a sign warning visitors to keep a physical distance, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, is fastened onto a fence at Pointe du Hoc in Cricqueville-en Bessin, Normandy, France. In sharp contrast to the 75th anniversary of D-Day, this year’s 76th will be one of the loneliest remembrances ever, as the coronavirus pandemic is keeping nearly everyone from traveling.

AP Photo/Virginia Mayo

Virus_Outbreak_EU_D-Day_71011 In this photo taken on Thursday, June 4, 2020, David Pottier, Mayor of the village of Mosles, Normandy, France, poses in front of a war monument after raising the American flags in remembrance of D-Day. In sharp contrast to the 75th anniversary of D-Day, this years 76th will be one of the loneliest remembrances ever, as the coronavirus pandemic is keeping nearly everyone from traveling.

AP Photo/Raf Casert

Virus_Outbreak_EU_D-Day_75217 In this photo taken on Thursday, June 4, 2020, a US flag flies on the back of a WWII era US Army Jeep in Grandcamp Maisy, Normandy, France. In sharp contrast to the 75th anniversary of D-Day, this year’s 76th will be one of the loneliest remembrances ever, as the coronavirus pandemic is keeping nearly everyone from traveling.

AP Photo/Virginia Mayo

APTOPIX_Virus_Outbreak_France_D-Day_78274 World War II D-Day veteran and Penobscot Elder from Maine, Charles Norman Shay poses on the dune overlooking Omaha Beach prior to a ceremony at his memorial in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, Normandy, France, Friday, June 5, 2020. Saturday’s anniversary of D-Day will be one of the loneliest remembrances ever, as the coronavirus pandemic is keeping almost everyone away, from government leaders to frail veterans who might not get another chance for a final farewell to their unlucky comrades.

AP Photo/Virginia Mayo

Virus_Outbreak_France_D-Day_11109 World War II D-Day veteran and Penobscot Elder from Maine, Charles Norman Shay sits on a bench next to his memorial stone at Omaha Beach prior to a ceremony in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, Normandy, France, Friday June 5, 2020. Saturday’s anniversary of D-Day will be one of the loneliest remembrances ever, as the coronavirus pandemic is keeping almost everyone away, from government leaders to frail veterans who might not get another chance for a final farewell to their unlucky comrades.

AP Photo/Virginia Mayo

Virus_Outbreak_France_D-Day_36234 World War II D-Day veteran and Penobscot Elder from Maine, Charles Norman Shay performs a ritual of the 4 directions during a Native American ceremony at his memorial overlooking Omaha Beach in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, Normandy, France, Friday, June 5, 2020. Saturday’s anniversary of D-Day will be one of the loneliest remembrances ever, as the coronavirus pandemic is keeping almost everyone away, from government leaders to frail veterans who might not get another chance for a final farewell to their unlucky comrades.

AP Photo/Virginia Mayo

Virus_Outbreak_France_D-Day_90129 World War II D-Day veteran and Penobscot Elder from Maine, Charles Norman Shay performs a ritual of the 4 directions during a Native American ceremony at his memorial overlooking Omaha Beach in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, Normandy, France, Friday, June 5, 2020. Saturday’s anniversary of D-Day will be one of the loneliest remembrances ever, as the coronavirus pandemic is keeping almost everyone away, from government leaders to frail veterans who might not get another chance for a final farewell to their unlucky comrades.

AP Photo/Virginia Mayo

Virus_Outbreak_France_D-Day_05189 World War II D-Day veteran and Penobscot Elder from Maine, Charles Norman Shay, left, participates in a Native American ceremony at his memorial overlooking Omaha Beach in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, Normandy, France, Friday, June 5, 2020. Saturday’s anniversary of D-Day will be one of the loneliest remembrances ever, as the coronavirus pandemic is keeping almost everyone away, from government leaders to frail veterans who might not get another chance for a final farewell to their unlucky comrades.

AP Photo/Virginia Mayo

Virus_Outbreak_France_D-Day_02053 World War II D-Day veteran and Penobscot Elder from Maine, Charles Norman Shay participates in a Native American ceremony at his memorial overlooking Omaha Beach in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, Normandy, France, Friday, June 5, 2020. Saturday’s anniversary of D-Day will be one of the loneliest remembrances ever, as the coronavirus pandemic is keeping almost everyone away, from government leaders to frail veterans who might not get another chance for a final farewell to their unlucky comrades.

AP Photo/Virginia Mayo

Virus_Outbreak_France_D-Day_56853 World War II D-Day veteran and Penobscot Elder from Maine, Charles Norman Shay participates in a Native American ceremony at his memorial overlooking Omaha Beach in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, Normandy, France, Friday, June 5, 2020. Saturday’s anniversary of D-Day will be one of the loneliest remembrances ever, as the coronavirus pandemic is keeping almost everyone away, from government leaders to frail veterans who might not get another chance for a final farewell to their unlucky comrades.

AP Photo/Virginia Mayo

Virus_Outbreak_France_D-Day_85621 Two men in WWII period uniforms mark off an area in a dune overlooking Omaha Beach prior to a ceremony at the Charles Shay Memorial in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, Normandy, France, Friday, June 5, 2020. Saturday’s anniversary of D-Day will be one of the loneliest remembrances ever, as the coronavirus pandemic is keeping almost everyone away, from government leaders to frail veterans who might not get another chance for a final farewell to their unlucky comrades.

AP Photo/Virginia Mayo

SAINT-LAURENT-SUR-MER, France (AP) — At least the dead will always be there.

All too many have been, for 76 years since that fateful June 6 on France’s Normandy beaches, when allied troops in 1944 turned the course of World War II and went on to defeat fascism in Europe in one of the most remarkable feats in military history.

Forgotten they will never be. Revered, yes. But Saturday’s anniversary will be one of the loneliest remembrances ever, as the coronavirus pandemic is keeping almost everyone away — from government leaders to frail veterans who might not get another chance for a final farewell to their unlucky comrades.

Rain and wind are also forecast, after weeks of warm, sunny weather.

“I miss the others,” said Charles Shay, who as a U.S. Army medic was in the first wave of soldiers to wade ashore at Omaha Beach under relentless fire on D-Day.

Shay, 95, lives in France close to the beach where he and so many others landed in 1944. He knows of no U.S. veterans making the trip overseas to observe D-Day this year.

“I guess I will be alone here this year,” Shay said before he performed a Native American ritual to honor his comrades by spreading the smoke of burning white sage into the winds lashing the Normandy coast Friday.

The eerie atmosphere touches the French as well as Americans.

“The sadness is almost too much, because there is no one,” said local guide Adeline James. “Plus you have their stories. The history is sad and it’s even more overwhelming now between the weather, the (virus) situation and, and, and.”

The locals in this northwestern part of France have come out year after year to show their gratitude for the soldiers from the United States, Britain, Canada and other countries who liberated them from Adolf Hitler’s Nazi forces.

Despite the lack of international crowds, David Pottier still went out to raise American flags in the Calvados village of Mosles, population 356, which was liberated by allied troops the day after the landing on five Normandy beachheads.

In a forlorn scene, a gardener tended to the parched grass around the small monument for the war dead, while Pottier, the local mayor, was getting the French tricolor to flutter next to the Stars and Stripes.

“We have to recognize that they came to die in a foreign land,” Pottier said. “We miss the GIs,” he said of the U.S. soldiers.

The pandemic has wreaked havoc across the world, infecting 6.6 million people, killing over 391,000 and devastating economies. It poses a particular threat to the elderly — like the surviving D-Day veterans who are in their late nineties or older.

It has also affected the younger generations who turn out every year to mark the occasion. Most have been barred from traveling to the windswept coasts of Normandy.

Some 160,000 soldiers made the perilous crossing from England that day in atrocious conditions, storming dunes which they knew were heavily defended by German troops determined to hold their positions.

Somehow, they succeeded. Yet they left a trail of thousands of casualties who have been mourned for generations since.

Last year stood out, with U.S. President Donald Trump joining French President Emmanuel Macron at the American cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach. A smattering of veterans were honored with the highest accolades. All across the beaches of Normandy tens of thousands came from across the globe to pay their respects to the dead and laud the surviving soldiers.

The acrid smell of wartime-era jeep exhaust fumes and the rumble of old tanks filled the air as parades of vintages vehicles went from village to village. The tiny roads between the dunes, hedges and apple orchards were clogged for hours, if not days.

Heading into the D-Day remembrance weekend this year, only the salty brine coming off the ocean on Omaha Beach hits the nostrils, the shrieks of seagulls pierce the ears and a sense of desolation hangs across the region’s country roads.

“Last yea,r this place was full with jeeps, trucks, people dressed up as soldiers,” said Eric Angely, who sat on a seawall wearing a World War II uniform after taking his restored U.S. Army jeep out for a ride.

“This year, there is nothing. It’s just me now, my dog and my jeep,” the local Frenchman said.

Three-quarters of a century and the horrific wartime slaughter of D-Day help put things in perspective. Someday, the COVID-19 pandemic, too, will pass, and people will turn out to remember both events that shook the world.

“We don’t have a short memory around here,” Pottier said with a wistful smile.

___

Virginia Mayo contributed.

___

Follow AP pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

Copyright © 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.


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