WASHINGTON -- The granddaughter of General Dwight D. Eisenhower thanked those who carried out the D-Day invasion, telling them during a 70th anniversary commemoration Friday at the nation’s World War II Memorial that "the world would have been a very different place" had their campaign failed.
Susan Eisenhower joined Elliot Roosevelt III, the great-grandson of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, representatives of 14 countries, several dozen World War II veterans and hundreds of spectators at the memorial on the National Mall to remember history’s largest amphibious assault.
Dozens of veterans who fought on D-Day were present. Now well into their 80s and 90s, some could still walk without help, though most were in wheelchairs or used canes. A few wore military uniforms. Others wore hats, or pins.
Eisenhower read the D-Day order that her grandfather sent to the troops, and a letter the future president prepared in case the invasion failed. Roosevelt shared the prayer that his great-grandfather read over the radio on the morning of June 6, 1944. The president called the invasion a success thus far and asked the country to continue praying as the war continued.
"Had the operation failed, the world would have been a very different place," Susan Eisenhower told the veterans and others at the ceremony. "It is our duty ... that we do all we can to keep the story of D-Day alive."
Elliot Roosevelt said, "May we now and in the future live up to your standard and live up to what you have conferred upon us.
It was a warm and cloudless day at the memorial, very different from conditions under which Allied forces stormed the beaches of northern France. At least 4,400 troops were killed that day, and many thousands more in the Battle of Normandy that followed.
Navy veteran Frank Shea, 88, of Clifton, New Jersey, enlisted at 17 with a forged birth certificate, and was a radio operator with a Navy ship on D-Day, eight days after his 18th birthday. His job was to relay the situation on the beach back to headquarters. His ship, more than 300 feet long, carried so many wounded soldiers that it ran out of space for them, Shea said.
He said he felt proud on Friday to be recognized for his service.
"When I got out of the Navy, I had to hitchhike home, with a seabag on my shoulder. That’s the kind of celebration they were giving," Shea said. "This is very nice. It’s very ornamental, and I appreciate it."
As people approached Shea to thank him for his service, 5-year-old Jacob Bobbitt of Baltimore walked up and silently handed Shea a small plastic American flag. Jacob’s grandmother had a bag full of flags, and he was handing them out to every veteran he could find.
Army veteran John Chaharyn, 91, of Rhode Island, was attached to the 82nd Airborne during D-Day. In the days leading up to the invasion, Chaharyn packed the parachutes that soldiers used to get behind enemy lines before the amphibious attack. He called Friday’s service heartwarming and said he appreciated that veterans had a chance to talk about war experiences they seldom share.
"It was fun time, and it was hell time," Chaharyn said of the war. "Like the rest of the veterans, we don’t talk too much about what we really went through."