The men stood by themselves on Omaha Beach in the early hours of Saturday, dressed in vintage battle fatigues — with 6 feet between them.
They looked out across the water where hundreds of thousands of soldiers — Americans, Brits and Canadians — came ashore on June 6, 1944, to launch the battle that changed the course of World War II.
The gathering to mark the anniversary of the invasion, which came to be known simply as D-Day, was extraordinarily small, a few dozen — driven down by fear of the coronavirus, The Associated Press reported.
Every other year has brought out throngs to mark the liberation from Nazi oppression.
Last year, on the 75th anniversary, tens of thousands from around the globe streamed onto France’s beaches of Normandy to cheer the dwindling number of D-Day veterans.
Billie Bishop, from San Jose, California, holds a photo of his uncle, WWII soldier Billie Bishop, as he prepares to lay a rose in the sea during a D-Day 76th anniversary ceremony in Saint Laurent sur Mer, Normandy, France, Saturday, June 6, 2020.AP
Charles Shay was one of those troops who stormed Omaha Beach, a 19-year-old Army medic who found himself dodging machine gun fire and exploding shells.
“I am very sad now,” Shay, now 95, told the AP. “Because of the virus, nobody can be here. I would like to see more of us here.”
After the war, Shay settled down near the beaches that came to define his life. His home is why he was virtually the only American survivor who stood on the sand Saturday — his fellow veterans could not fly in because of the pandemic.
In better times, the French rolled out vintage jeep and trucks — their rumble heard for miles. On Saturday, the roads were deserted around Saint-Laurent-Sur-Mer, a town near Omaha Beach.
Adrian Cox, a British Expat and Councilor of Arromaches, lays flowers in the sea to commemorate the 76th Anniversary of the D-Day landings at dawn on Gold Beach on June 06, 2020 in Arromanches-les-Bains, France.Getty Images
“It’s a June 6 unlike any other,” said Mayor Philippe Laillier, who staged a small remembrance at the Omaha Beach monument. “But still we had to do something. We had to mark it.”
The pandemic has wreaked havoc worldwide since late last year, killing nearly 400,000 — a quarter of the deaths in the US — and devastating economies, numbers show.
The elderly, like the surviving D-Day veterans, are particularly at risk of becoming infected with the coronavirus. Even the young generations who turn out every year were barred from traveling to Normandy.
Ivan Thierry is a local who makes his living by catching sea bass around the wrecks that still litter the waters.
Thierry attends the observance every year — and this year was no different. He was holding Old Glory in tribute.
Men in a vintage US WWII uniforms stand behind flowers left at Les Braves monument after a D-Day 76th anniversary ceremony in Saint Laurent sur Mer, Normandy, France, Saturday, June 6, 2020.AP
“There is not nobody here,” Thierry, 62, told the AP. “Even if we are only a dozen, we are here to commemorate.”
In Washington, President Trump remembered the day with a tweet saluting those who served so valiantly.
“Today, we pause to remember and honor all the brave soldiers, sailors and airmen whose selfless sacrifice catalyzed the deliverance of oppressed people and secured freedom for decades to come. May we always be true to the virtues and principles for which this D-Day generation — the Greatest Generation — paid so dearly.”