SAINT-LAURENT-SUR-MER, France (AP) — As fewer World War II veterans are left to share their stories, this year’s 75th anniversary D-Day commemoration is focusing on keeping memories alive.
A group of French students recently joined 15 veterans from the United States who returned to Omaha Beach for an emotional ceremony at the American Cemetery.
“There are so many who have died for us, to rescue us,” said 10-year-old Martin Deshayes, who marveled at the tales of the arrival of thousands of troops on the shore. “If they hadn’t landed at that time, maybe we would be Germans now or we wouldn’t exist.”
A teacher from the nearby town of Tour-en-Bessin, Claire Muller, recalled hearing war stories from her grandparents, whose house was bombed during the Battle of Normandy.
“But still they were so grateful and they helped the injured,” she said.
In the city of Caen that was destroyed by bombing after the D-Day landings, the Memorial Museum was full of children as the anniversary approached. Some 110,000 students visit each year.
While the museum once organized meetings with veterans and other survivors, it also anticipated the need for sharing memories in more permanent ways such as videos.
“Still, witnesses are irreplaceable,” said Isabelle Bournier, the cultural and pedagogical director. She described the fascination of a group of children who recently happened to see a veteran at the museum.
To help children better understand the war, the museum immerses them in recreated scenes and allows them to touch objects from daily life. The aim is to evoke historic context without showing them horrifying images.
Marie Poinson visited with her two teenage sons. She said she had worried they would find the museum depressing. Instead, they were impressed by the images of ruins and people fleeing, which reminded them of current conflicts around the world.
“They now have a deeper understanding of what the words ‘never again’ mean,” she said.
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