At daybreak on Saturday, Charles Shay stood lonesome without any fellow veteran on the very same beach where he waded ashore 76 years ago, part of one of the most epic battles in military history that came to be known as D-Day and turned the tide of World War II.
Compared to last year, when many tens of thousands came to the northern French beaches of Normandy to cheer the dwindling number of veterans and celebrate three quarters of a century of liberation from Nazi oppression, the coronavirus lockdown turned this year’s remembrance into one of the eeriest ever.
“I am very sad now,” said Shay, who was a 19-year-old U.S. Army medic when he landed on Omaha Beach under horrific machine-gun fire and shells. “Because of the virus, nobody can be here. I would like to see more of us here,” he told the Associated Press.
Normally, 95-year-old Shay would be meeting other survivors of the 1944 battle and celebrating with locals and dignitaries alike, all not far from his home close to the beaches that defined his life.
Every year USEUCOM participates in D-Day commemorations. And while coronavirus has interrupted life around the world, we continue the D-Day tradition by virtually honoring all the Allied forces who stood defiant against Nazi tyranny 76 years ago. #TogetherWeRemember pic.twitter.com/FWVD5SXeuX
— U.S. European Command (@US_EUCOM) June 6, 2020
When a full moon disappeared over land and the sun rose the other side over the English Channel, there was no customary rumble of columns of vintage jeep and trucks to be heard, roads still so deserted a hare sat alongside them.
Still the French would not let this day slip by unnoticed, such is their attachment to some 160,000 soldiers from the United States, Britain, Canada and others who spilled their blood to free foreign beaches and fight on to finally defeat Nazism almost one year later.
“It’s a June 6th unlike any other,” said Philippe Laillier, the mayor of Saint-Laurent-Sur-Mer, where he staged a small remembrance around the Omaha Beach monument. “But still we had to do something. We had to mark it.”
The moment the sun broke over the ocean, the Omaha Beach theme from Saving Private Ryan blared across the sand for a few dozen locals and visitors dressed in vintage clothing.
Today marks 76 years since #DDay, the largest seaborne invasion in history. D-Day was a truly international effort with British troops fighting alongside many other countries. Join us today as we remember the service & sacrifice of all those involved in turning the tide of #WW2. pic.twitter.com/OnuNEUSADR
— Royal British Legion (@PoppyLegion) June 6, 2020
The lack of a big international crowd was palpable though.
The pandemic has wreaked havoc across the world, infecting 6.6 million people, killing over 391,000 and devastating economies. It poses a particular threat to the elderly — like the surviving D-Day veterans who are in their late nineties or older.
It has also affected the younger generations who turn out every year to mark the occasion. Most have been barred from traveling to the windswept coasts of Normandy.
It did not affect Ivan Thierry, 62, a local fisherman who catches seabass around the wrecks that still litter the seabed nearby. He was holding an American flag in tribute even before dawn.
“There is not nobody here. Even if we are only a dozen, we are here to commemorate,” he said.
American Airlines ordered passengers to stop social distancing — because they hadn’t paid for exit seats
On Wednesday, The New York Times reported that the flight crew on an American Airlines trip ordered two passengers to stop social distancing and move back to their seats.
The reason? The empty row they moved into cost slightly more.
"On a June 30 flight on American Airlines from Dallas to Newark, Joy Gonzalez, an aviation engineer based in Seattle, found herself seated at a window with two older passengers beside her in the middle and aisle seats," reported Elaine Glusac. "In order to gain more social distance, she and the aisle passenger both moved to seats behind them where two rows were empty. But before takeoff, a flight attendant ordered them back to their assigned seats, telling them they had not paid for those exit row seats, which are more expensive."
Kayleigh McEnany says she has no ‘data’ on whether Tulsa rally increased COVID — but city official says it likely did
At Wednesday's White House briefing, Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany was confronted with the fact that President Donald Trump's rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma led to an outbreak of COVID-19 cases. Her reply was to plead ignorance: "I have no data to indicate that."
However, according to a health official in Tulsa, the pattern of cases indicates it is "likely" that it did just that.
"President Donald Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa in late June that drew thousands of participants and large protests 'likely contributed' to a dramatic surge in new coronavirus cases, Tulsa City-County Health Department Director Dr. Bruce Dart said Wednesday," reported Sean Murphy for the Associated Press. "Tulsa County reported 261 confirmed new cases on Monday, a one-day record high, and another 206 cases on Tuesday. By comparison, during the week before the June 20 Trump rally, there were 76 cases on Monday and 96 on Tuesday."
New Hampshire Republican officials aren’t interested in attending Trump’s upcoming rally
President Donald Trump held a campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that was supposed to be massive, but one of the main problems that came up for the team is that thousands and thousands of people signed up for tickets, who never attended. This time, they think they've figured it out, said the New York Times.
"Campaign officials believe they will be able to prevent the kind of ticket prank that helped turn Mr. Trump's rally last month," the report said, noting that the crowd was a "far smaller event than expected — but they still can't say for sure."
"Registering for a rally means you've RSVPed with a cellphone number, and we constantly weed out bogus numbers," campaign spokesman, Tim Murtaugh said. "These phony ticket requests never factor into our thinking. What makes this lame attempt at hacking our events even more foolish is the fact that every rally is general admission — entry is on a first-come-first-served basis, and prior registration is not required."