The town square in Carentan is infamous. Just days after D-Day, an award ceremony was being held to recognize soldiers for their valorous actions in the opening days of the liberation of Europe. The Germans knew this and sent an artillery barrage mid-ceremony. A little girl taking part in the ceremony moments before lay lifeless in the street moments after.
Seventy-five years later, two dozen veterans of the war sat and watched a re-creation of the ceremony. This time without threat of Nazi artillery.
The veterans were there thanks to Best Defense Foundation. The foundation was started by NFL star Donnie Edwards with the intention of bringing veterans back to the battlefields on which they served. It’s a daunting task: Edwards escorts men and women who are nearly a century old to locations around Europe and the Pacific. If anyone is worth the effort he puts into this, it’s the greatest generation.
Today they were treated to a dance in the town square, and then a front-row view of the parade and re-creation of that fateful ceremony. The crowd of American soldiers and Carentanians were excited to have them. At one point, the veterans were in tears. At another, the crowd had more than a few tears of their own.
Edwards and his crew go out of their way to make sure these veterans — our nation’s most finite treasure — have an experience they will never forget.
One of their veterans was in 5th Ranger Battalion. Another was an underwater demolition team (UDT) diver who cleared the mines off Normandy. Others were in tanks or artillery. All put everything on the line when their nation called. If it wasn’t for them, the world would look much different today.
If it wasn’t for Edwards, these veterans’ lives would look much different.
For the active duty soldiers in front of them, it was a special moment that none will be likely to forget anytime soon. And that’s saying something. I met up with many of them at a local bar down by the water afterward. Some were fresh off rotations to Afghanistan; others had just finished in Syria. Some came off a tour of duty with the U.S. Army Recruiting Command. All were very aware of how special an opportunity it was for them to be here.
And they didn’t have any problem attracting the attention of the locals. One noncommissioned officer stripped off his top and sat down for an arm-wrestling contest with a local Frenchman, while others flirted with local French girls. No one was having a bad time. All couldn’t quit talking about the incredible men they met at the ceremony. One soldier recalled an interaction between two World War II veterans — one American paratrooper and one German paratrooper. They had words for each other, even after all this time. They still shook hands before parting.
None of these heroes would be present for this opportunity if it weren’t for Best Defense Foundation. It’s no small order to take on this mission, but it makes a difference for those who laid it all on the line — for those who saved the world as we know it.
This is the fifth in a series of dispatches while Coffee or Die is in Normandy, France, for the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
Marty Skovlund Jr. is the founding editor of Coffee or Die Magazine. As a journalist, Marty has covered the Standing Rock protest in North Dakota, embedded with American special operation forces in Afghanistan, and broken stories about the first females to make it through infantry training and Ranger selection. He has also published two books, appeared as a co-host on History Channel’s JFK Declassified, and produced multiple award-winning independent films.
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