In Normandy, gratitude and grief ahead of D-Day’s 75th anniversary

JUDY WOODRUFF: Utah, Omaha, Juno, Gold, Names
that will live on in history, given to the beaches in Normandy, France, where American-led
allied troops landed on June 6, 1944, to begin the liberation of Europe. Of the 16 million Americans who served during
World War II, an estimated 500,000 remain alive. Only a few have returned on this 75th anniversary
of D-Day. And it may be the last time a large group
veterans of that epic battle will gather. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant spoke
with a group of them in Normandy. MALCOLM BRABANT: At a chateau in Normandy,
the soundtrack of the Greatest Generation here to remember the defining moment of their
lives and of World War II. Artilleryman Pete Shaw landed at Utah Beach. Thus began nearly 300 days of combat, which
earned him four Bronze Stars. TEC5 PETE SHAW (RET.), 283rd Field Artillery
Battalion: I wanted to come back at the 50th anniversary, but my wife was diagnosed with
cancer. So I didn’t come. But I wanted to come so bad. That’s why I never turned down this opportunity
to come for the 75th. MALCOLM BRABANT: This is what they came for,
the beaches, where the Allies gained their first foothold in German-occupied France. Staff Sergeant George Mullins crash landed
on Utah Beach in a glider. What’s it like to be back? STAFF SGT. GEORGE MULLINS (RET.), 327th Gilder Infantry
Regiment: Feels good. MALCOLM BRABANT: At the Omaha Beach memorial,
German soldiers surprised ranger Roy Huereque by thanking him for liberating them from
Hitler’s Nazi regime. MAN: Well, you don’t want to hear my story
of Germany. (LAUGHTER) MAN: I think it’s a good story because you
freed us. MAN: How far out was the tide when you came
in on June 6? MAN: It was way out. MAN: It was way out. MALCOLM BRABANT: Jerry Deitch was in the initial
wave on Utah Beach. S.M. 2C JERRY DEITCH (RET.), Naval Combat
Demolition: I almost wanted to say I was too scared to be scared. But I was terrified. I says, you know what, I trained for this
for six months. We had a job to do, and we did it. I didn’t have any time to be afraid or anything. This was it. MALCOLM BRABANT: His mission was to blow up
obstacles and anti-tank mines while under fire. NARRATOR: Another of the decisive battles
of world history has been joined. This is the day for which free people have
long waited. This is D-Day. MALCOLM BRABANT: French children paid tribute
as the veterans saluted in front of the Omaha Beach memorial. Polish reenactors were awestruck by at being
in the presence of the real deal. Deitch, who served in the forbearer of the
Navy SEALs, recalls men were dying all around him, before he was knocked unconscious. He woke up eight days later in an English
hospital. S.M. 2C JERRY DEITCH: The ones that went into
Omaha Beach, they had a 75 percent loss out of 50 people. Utah Beach we were fortunate. We had a 20 percent loss. MALCOLM BRABANT: Such selflessness securing
the beachhead enabled servicewomen like nurse Leila Morrison to come ashore later on. 2ND LT. LEILA MORRISON (RET.), 118th Evacuation Hospital:
Every day is a memorial day. All of them were injured and suffered. And I try not to remember that part. But I want to remember the courage that they
showed, remember that they never complained, and they were there for a reason. And if they — all of them would say, if I
had to do it all over, I would do it again. MALCOLM BRABANT: Private Brad Freeman was
a member of Easy Company immortalized in the HBO TV series “Band of Brothers.” BRAD FREEMAN (RET.), 2nd Battalion 50th Parachute
Infantry Regiment: Well, we knows what we come for. We was ready. We were all just kids. NARRATOR: Paratroopers landed in Normandy
behind the coastal defenses. BRAD FREEMAN: We knew whenever we stepped
out that plane, we didn’t have a way back. And we’d better do something if we wanted
to live. MALCOLM BRABANT: At the American cemetery
above Omaha Beach lie some of Freeman’s brothers in arms, Private Earle Williams from California,
Private Donald MacMillin from New York. Many were picked off by the Germans after
being dropped in the wrong place. George Mullins is now 94 and has just written
a book detailing how he fought across Europe, was wounded, patched up, carried on, and reached
Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest redoubt in the German Alps. STAFF SGT. GEORGE MULLINS: I’m proud of the outfit I
represent, 101st Airborne. They’re special men to fight with. They — you know what you have when you fight
with them. And I did the best I could. MALCOLM BRABANT: Russell Picket was carrying
a flamethrower in the first wave onto Omaha Beach. He was wounded and had to use life preservers
from those killed to save himself from being pulled out to sea by the tide. PFC. RUSSELL PICKET (RET.), Company A, 1st Battalion:
Depending on how you look at it, now, eagerness to go and do, I was proud of that. But what I got done, I wasn’t proud of it. If I could have burned out the pillbox within
the 30 minutes that I was supposed to have burned it out, there would have been hundreds
of people saved. I criticize myself all the time, even though
I couldn’t help it. I know I couldn’t help it. I got sense enough to know that. But if I had my choice, I would go on definitely
knowing that I was doing a suicide job. MALCOLM BRABANT: But, here, he’s regarded
as a genuine hero. In villages like Colleville-sur-Mer, they
are paying homage to the men who liberated them from four years of Nazi occupation. At the moment, it’s like being on a giant
film set in Normandy. There’s a really festive atmosphere, as tens
of thousands of people celebrate the sacrifices and the courage of those who participated
in The Longest Day. Certainly, there’s solemnity. But the overriding emotions that will be the
legacy of this anniversary are gratitude and respect. There’s intense gratitude in Sainte-Mere-Eglise,
the first village to be fully liberated. Mayor Jean Quetier studies the bell tower
where wounded paratrooper John Steele hung for hours, suspended by his chute. He only survived by pretending to be dead. Like many of his comrades, Steele was mistakenly
dropped in an area bristling with Germans. JEAN QUETIER, Mayor of Sainte-Mere-Eglise:
Maybe it’s the last anniversary with veterans, because they are now old men. But it’s necessary we remember the story. It’s a very expensive price for freedom and
democracy. MALCOLM BRABANT: Medic Gene Kleindl landed
at Utah Beach. This time, he had a different reception. GENE KLEINDL (RET.), 358th Medical Detachment:
I’m being treated like a rock star and with pictures, and not realizing that. All these many, many years, I still can’t
believe it. MALCOLM BRABANT: Today’s American paratroopers
are naturally drawn to Sainte-Mere-Eglise. For those following in their footsteps, the
Greatest Generation has a simple message. STAFF SGT. GEORGE MULLINS: Just don’t let it happen again. That’s all the advice I have got to the world. Don’t let it happen again. NARRATOR: Every soldier knew his station. Every man knew just where he was to fit into
the gigantic pattern. MALCOLM BRABANT: At this moment 75 years ago,
150,000 men steeled themselves for the landing and the assault, not knowing that, by the
end of The Longest Day, an estimated 10,000 would be killed, wounded, or listed as missing
in action. For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Malcolm Brabant
at Omaha Beach.

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