NOIRMOUTIER, France — Anthony Brochard became emotional as he observed American World War II veterans who returned to the beaches they stormed 70 years earlier.
With America’s Independence Day approaching, Brochard realized that as the now-elderly men struggled through the surf under the withering fire of German guns seven decades before, they were bringing the Fourth of July’s spirit of freedom and liberty to his country.
Clad as G.I.s, Brochard and Jean-Paul Limagne, members of the Noirmoutier Historic Vehicles association, drove their restored U.S. Army vehicles on a 12-day odyssey between the past and the future.
“When I was approaching the landing beaches wearing my U.S. uniform, I was so emotional and excited to be in this great and wonderful experience,” Brochard said. “It was just for them— the boys, our liberators.”
While Brochard drove his 1944 Willys jeep, Limagne drove his GMC troop carrier truck, christened in honor of U.S. Quartermaster Corps Capt. William A. Reed.
Reed’s widow, Franco-American Dr. Marie-Thérèse Reed, one of the founders of Noirmoutier’s 19-year Sister City relationship with Crestview, was also in Normandy in June.
“Jean-Paul took me in Capt. Reed's GMC and we rode a few miles on Utah Beach,” Marie-Thérèse Reed said. “It was extremely moving, and when I saw my husband's picture on the dashboard, I had a hard time not crying with emotion.”
Emotions were rampant during ceremonies commemorating the 70th anniversary of the June 6, 1944, Allied landings.
“When I was seeing the World War II veterans in Normandy, I was so emotional and I was thinking how my debt to them for our freedom is big because of their sacrifice,” Brochard said.
“It was an honor, a great honor, to be in their presence,” he said.
“I was extremely moved by the veterans; there are not many left but what courage!” Reed said. “Who would give his life for his country these days?”
‘THEIR GRANDFATHERS WERE HEROES’
Looking a year ahead, Brochard, Jean-Paul Limagne and their friends in the vehicles club will commemorate the 70th anniversary of France’s liberation and the end of World War II in Europe in May 2015.
Members of Crestview’s Sister City Program will visit Noirmoutier then with students from Northwest Florida State College’s Soundsations, Madrigals and Belle Voci choirs.
World War II concluded half a century before most of the students were born. It might seem puzzling to them to encounter the emotion with which even young Noirmoutrins honor their grandfathers and great-grandfathers’ sacrifices.
“I would say to the students, your grandfathers weren't only soldiers, they were heroes who served in the company of many heroes,” Brochard said. “They were the Greatest Generation, the Band of Brothers, who fought for peace, love and freedom.
“May God keep in peace the fallen soldiers who were their brothers in that terrible war.”