Triangle vets remember comrades at D-Day memorial
Posted June 6
Updated June 7
Bedford, Va. — Dozens of veterans traveled from the Triangle on Friday to the Blue Ridge Mountains town of Bedford to honor those who didn't return from D-Day battles 70 years ago.
The National D-Day Memorial is in Bedford, which lost 19 men on the Normandy beaches in World War II – the highest per-capita loss for any U.S. town or city.
Thousands gathered at the memorial Friday to pay respects to their comrades. During a 90-minute ceremony, excerpts of D-Day diaries and letters were read, bagpipes played, the Army's Golden Knights parachute team did a synchronized jump and a new statue was dedicated to the "Bedford Boys."
Robert Ivey of Lumberton recalled his own jump into Normandy as a 19-year-old paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division on June 8, 1944 – two days after D-Day.
"I told my family that I didn't ever expect to come back," Ivey said. "I did. I was lucky enough to."
Like many returning to the U.S. after the war, he said, he had nightmares about his D-Day experiences and couldn't share them with family or friends.
"You were young at that time, so when you came back, you forgot about it. You never talked about it," he said.
Edward Isbell also was with the 82nd Airborne and wound up in a German prisoner-of-war camp for a year after landing in Normandy. On Friday, he was too choked up to speak while remembering buddies who died on the battlefield.
"I was glad I had the opportunity to do it, but I was glad when it was over and I was back home,” Isbell said.
Many of the veterans said they were grateful to be honored for what they did so long ago.
"I can't express how much it means. There are no words to express it. It's overwhelming," said Joseph Stroud, who was a Navy medic in World War II.
Back in Raleigh, Mayor Nancy McFarlane welcomed representatives of Raleigh’s sister city Compiegne, France. On Saturday, Mayor Philippe Marini and Vice-Mayor Arielle Francois are expected to help open an exhibit dedicated to local World War II veterans at the Raleigh City Museum and lay a wreath at the World War II section of the North Carolina Veteran’s Monument on the grounds of the State Capitol. Veterans who served on D-Day also will be presenting with the National Order of the Legion of Honour, the highest decoration awarded by France.
The veterans ended the day with a celebratory welcome home at the State Fairgrounds. Hundreds turned out to cheer their arrival accompanied by flashing lights and blaring horns.
"Fantasmagorical," Robert Davis called it. "This is glorius, glorious."
Fifteen-year-old Charles Kane approached each vet and asked for an autograph. "I think it is still going on that people care for this very much," he said. "These men were only 18 and 19, and they had the courage to do it."
Veteran James Finch got choked up. "I don't know how to explain it," he said. The memories of battle 70 years ago remain fresh and the emotions raw.