D-Day veteran Sidney Walton with Daniel Smiechowski
D-Day veteran Sidney Walton with Daniel Smiechowski.

COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, FRANCE — At the American Cemetery in Normandy, under cloudy skies and a brisk chill, world leaders along with an astounding 1,300 American military personnel gathered to commemorate D-Day, the assault on Nazi-occupied Europe 75 years ago.

Led by American and British forces, and code-named Operation Overlord, it remains the largest amphibious assault ever and a pivotal moment in World War II and world history.

The five principal beaches of the Allied assault were cloistered between the French towns of Cabourg and Sainte-Mere-Eglise. Their code names are better remembered: Omaha, Utah, Juno, Gold and Sword. The first two were American objectives, Juno the Canadian target and the last two British.

There were at least 10,000 Allied casualties, including 4,414 confirmed dead, but June 6, 1944, ended with a decisive victory over Nazi Germany.

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President Trump and  French President Emanuel Macron spoke, but the real heroes were the nearly 150 American veterans in attendance. They were repeatedly given standing ovations by close to 10,000 French and American citizens.

In a coincidental twist of fate, I interviewed a 100-year-old D-Day Veteran from San Diego, Sidney Walton, who liberated my own mother on these very shores 75 years ago. It was impossible to hold back tears.

From the perilous cliffs above the cemetery, one can see further north to the port city of Le Havre. It is here where my mother, then 17, and her family lived under German occupation.

Just three months after D-Day, my Mother’s home and the entire strategic city were relentlessly bombed into submission by allied aircraft. The Germans capitulated, and the Allies advanced into Paris. Le Havre alone suffered over 5,000 fatalities in World War II.

It was two years earlier that the first raid on Adolph Hitler’s “Atlantic Wall” took place at the northern French town of Bruneval. Operation Biting, led by British commandos and Royal Air Force bombers, was a resounding success.

During our return trip into Le Havre through Caen, we were witness to American flags everywhere and French citizens sitting on curbs waving thank you to America. If there is still anyone doubting the loving friendship between two oldest allies look no further than the streets of Normandy on June 6, 2019.

Daniel “Danny” Smiechowski is a Clairemont resident, prolific writer on education issues, former candidate for San Diego City Council and current candidate for Mayor. His family has a home in historic Le Harve on the French coast.