NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Three helicopters showered 1 million rose petals on the Statue of Liberty during a ceremony commemorating the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.
Hundreds of history buffs, World War II veterans and active duty military members gathered for the event in New York Harbor on Friday.
The crowd cheered as rose petals floated down to Earth, WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb reported.
The ceremony marked the invasion that led to the liberation of France from Nazi Germany.
A French military frigate, the Lafayette, was moored near the statue, which was a gift from France.
As CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer reported, gigantic flags of the United States and France were unfurled on Liberty Island as a group call The French Will Never Forget honored New York World War II veterans.
A band then played both countries’ national anthems.
The ceremony also included a 21-gun salute to honor fallen World War II soldiers, along with the playing of Taps.
An FDNY fire boat also sprayed streams of red, white and blue water.
The veterans in attendance all received the French Legion of Honor and commemorative replicas of the Statue of Liberty, Kramer reported.
Among those honored was 92-year-old Morton Wernick, of the Upper East Side. He was selected to speak on behalf of his fellow veterans.
“I appreciate all the men here sitting with me. It was a tough job that we had to do,” he said to the crowd.
Afterward Wernick, who served with Gen. Patton’s Fourth Armored Division, said he spent much of the ceremony thinking about his fallen comrades.
“And it’s just a waste today of life,” he said.
On Long Island, the 70th anniversary was remembered at a ceremony in Old Bethpage Friday.
“I get visions of the beach and what it looked like. It’s like a color still picture and I just see the bodies and it was a pretty awful day,” U.S. Army veteran Jacob Cutler said.
A day he and other World War II veterans at the Museum of American Armor said marked a turning point in a war that hopefully taught us a lesson we’ll never forget, WCBS 880’s Mike Xirinachs reported.
“They should never let an aggressor ever take over the world where something like this has to happen.”
As CBS 2’s Maurice DuBois reported, patriotic songs also filled the Long Island State Veterans Home in Stony Brook in honor of three members of the Greatest Generation – Ben Gebbia, 95; Michael Settani, 101; and Julian Oleaga, 89. They were all there on D-Day storming the beaches of Normandy.
“You didn’t think about things like that, or you would get too nervous,” Gebbia said.
Gebbia survived and ultimately helped free prisoners from two concentration camps. It is the stuff of heroes, but Gebbia said he was just doing his job.
“You know you had a fear, and you know, it was just another landing we had to do, to fight for our country,” Gebbia said.
“It was something you had to do,” added Settani. “You had no choice. I enlisted.
Settani was matter-of-fact about the day he landed on Omaha Beach and was badly wounded, and such humility for D-Day veterans is not uncommon.
Others, such as Oleaga – who was also wounded – preferred to block out the day they saw many of their buddies die.
“I want to forget things like that,” he said.
But their valor that day still inspires all the generations that have followed, or yet to come.
“It is an honor to be here today with veterans who served before me,” said U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Luis Colomba. “I hope I can be as brave as they are.”
Meanwhile, in honor of the anniversary, flags were also flown at half-staff on all government buildings in New York state.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo made the announcement, reminding New Yorkers on Friday to remember the men and women who served in the armed forces during D-Day and throughout World War II.
“Of the 900,000 New Yorkers who fought during the war, nearly 37,000 of them did not return and we remember their sacrifice with honor,” Cuomo said.
President Obama Commemorates 70th Anniversary Of D-Day
In France, President Barack Obama visited the hallowed beaches of Normandy in what he called a “powerful manifestation of America’s commitment to human freedom” that lives on in a new generation.
Obama and French President Francois Hollande laid a wreath to honor the sacrifice of more than 150,000 allied troops when they stormed the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944. Obama hugged veterans and thanked them for their commitment to liberty, equality and freedom, CBS 2’s Jericka Duncan reported.
“That claim is written in the blood on these beaches and it will endure for eternity,” Obama said.
More than 9,000 U.S. soldiers are buried at the American cemetery, which overlooks Omaha Beach. It’s the largest of five beaches allied forces stormed on D-Day.
“I hope I can help other people understand what we went through,” said 91-year-old Rollie Daniel of Minneapolis, who parachuted into Normandy with the 82nd Airborne Division. “I think I first realized it was for real once I stepped across a dead German, one time.”
Daniel said Nazi Germany lost it’s grip on France because of the unrelenting determination of allied forces.
For decades, Daniel said tried to block out the memories of the war, but added coming back to Normandy, 70 years later, helped him heal.
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