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The last wave

A parade of Presidents, Prime Ministers, kings and queens marked the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings that launched the Normandy invasion and contributed to the defeat of Nazi Germany in the Second World War. The landings sent young men storming into the forbidding beaches of northern France amid a hail of fire in perhaps the greatest invasion in human history.

“…Wave after wave of young men boarding those boats to liberate people they had never met…. We say it now as if it couldn’t be any other way. But in the annals of history, the world had never seen anything like it,” President Barack Obama said, standing before some of the dwindling corps of survivors on Omaha Beach, one of the five sectors of the invasion.

This year’s celebration has a special poignancy because it is likely to be one of the last attended by large numbers of those who witnessed what the war correspondent Ernie Pyle called the “long thin line of personal anguish”, referring to the belongings left behind by the thousands who were killed that day.

THAT’S MY STORY

At Camp Dog Green near Omaha Beach, John Trippon, 92, from Arizona, who served as a technical sergeant,recalled: “What happened should have never happened to anybody. I came in the second wave”, the landingm craft nosing its way through the floating bodies of soldiers who had not made it to the beach.

The German fire was so relentless that rather than approach the shore, the boats dropped his unit in the sea, about 350 feet from land. “And so we went down in the water,” Trippon said. “I had a Browning automatic rifle across my shoulders and bandoleers of ammo, hand grenades and a gas mask, and I had to get rid of all that otherwise I would be drowned. When I got on the shore, all I had left was my helmet and my gas mask, no gun.

“I picked up a gun off the beach because there were so many guys that had been killed, so the guns were lying on the beach. And a friend of mine who was from Oshkosh, Wisconsin, hollered to me to come over and have shelter from the machine guns,” he said.

“Of the 560 of us who landed that day, only 240 of us were alive,” at the end of it. “Then, when we went home, there was only 120 of us, and now there are only three,” he said, tears covering his face.

“That’s my story.”


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