VIERVILLE-SUR-MER, France (AP) — Veterans from the U.S. 29th Infantry Division returned to the shores of Omaha Beach at dawn Friday after 70 years — this time the storms replaced by a bright sun and their mission of war giving way to a desire to remember their fallen comrades.
As the sun came up over the Normandy coast, the seven returning vets and their family members toasted those who died when more than 150,000 U.S., British, Canadian and other Allied forces came ashore on June 6, 1944.
At 6:30 a.m., the precise hour that the first waves of infantry began wading ashore under a deafening hailstorm of German machine-gun and mortar fire, the men — most now in their 90s — raised glasses of bracing Calvados apple brandy to the memory of friends killed that day.
Hundreds of onlookers crowded the beach, including many re-enactors in period army uniforms. Some drove vintage jeeps and armored vehicles like those seen here 70 years ago.
A military band of serving 29th division members played taps and "Amazing Grace" before the seven vets walked off the beach to the applause of hundreds of onlookers.
The 29th, a National Guard formation nicknamed the Blue and Gray, was one of six Allied infantry and three airborne divisions that assaulted a 50-mile (80-kilometer) stretch of heavily defended coastline. Nearly 1,000 members of the division were killed, wounded or went missing on the invasion's first day. Thousands more died in the ensuing three-month Battle of Normandy in addition to some 20,000 French civilians killed in Allied bombardments.
Retired doctor and author Harold Baumgarten, 89, of Jacksonville Beach, Florida, has returned to Normandy many times over the decades.
"I landed on this beach in the first wave and I got wounded five times — three times on D-Day and twice on June 7th," Baumgarten said. "I had to stop. I ran out of blood."
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