Veterans Reflect on Challenges They Faced During the Invasion of Normandy

Hay and her entire nurse corps had raced up a beach still riddled with mines, with gunfire sounding everywhere, casualties pouring in. In my mind, it had to have been terrifying for a girl just barely out of college.

"It was busy," she said, without a hint of irony. It was, to her, simply fact. "And noisy. Very, very noisy."

She turned back to her comrades, gently signaling that my curiosity had no place in their conversation. What they had all lived through was too intense, too personal to share with just anyone. So I just kept listening to these extraordinarily brave people.

Did I mention that Hay is 87 years old?

Fox is 90, and Batts, who enlisted in the British Army at the age of 16, is in his late 80s.

These are veterans of D-Day, the day when thousands of men -- and hundreds of women -- began pouring onto the beaches of Normandy, France to push the Nazis back, day by brutal day.

We hear about these veterans about once a year, in the first week of June, on D-Day's anniversary. We hear from fewer and fewer of them though, because there are fewer and fewer of them. And their stories, their incredible and inspiring and instructive stories, are dying with them.

"No one wants to hear it," Hay later explained to me. "They just see us as old."

She keeps meaning to write down her memories -- her searingly, vividly real memories of an extraordinary war -- but she isn't encouraged to do it.

I tried to explain to the three of them that so many people are very interested in their stories, but Batts and Fox said no, not really, and they concurred with Hay. Their war is history, and their history has been shelved.

The train we were on was in Normandy, and they were there as part of the D-Day anniversary observance, part of the British contingent. The anniversaries are, Hay noted, when she talks about "the war" -- when she and her peers get together and they know that those listening want to listen. They care because they know what that war meant -- to them and to the world. They put their "Normandy Veterans Association" jackets on, pin their medals to it, seek each other out, and walk together back in time.

So many American veterans of D-Day have told me the same thing: their memories are tucked away, on the verge of becoming lost history. In fact, I was on the train because we had just completed a day of interviewing some of those American veterans. We had been at Utah beach. For some, it was their first time back since the war ended. And, for many, it was the first time in a long time they had really stopped to remember ... everything.

Veterans Share Their Stories With College Students

There was a difference, though, for these American vets. They had traveled to Normandy with a group of college students -- 20 of them -- from the College of the Ozarks in Missouri. It is part of a living history project, organized by a non-profit group "The Greatest Generation Foundation," which sponsors veterans on trips back to the battlefields of their youth.

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