GREENFIELD — On Thursday, the nations honored the fallen and the singular bravery of all Allied troops who sloshed through bloodied water to the beaches of Normandy 75 years ago on D-Day, the assault that portended the fall of Hitler’s Third Reich.
Though none of them were at D-Day, local veterans of World War II in Greenfield spent time with one another at the weekly lunch at the Greenfield Elks Lodge, hosted by the nonprofit organization Building Bridges, an Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts outreach. These veterans remembered their service and the service of others Thursday.
D-Day was history’s largest air and sea invasion, involving around 160,000 troops on that day itself and many more in the ensuing Battle of Normandy. Of those, 73,000 were from the United States, while 83,000 were from Britain and Canada. Troops started landing overnight from the air, then were joined by a massive force by sea on the beaches code-named Omaha, Utah, Juno, Sword and Gold, carried by 7,000 boats.
During the lunch, veterans of WWII were asked to raise their hands to be recognized — five raised their hands.
Ninety-two-year-old Stanley Parda of Bernardston said he served in the Navy for 14 months in the Pacific and two of his brothers served in Europe.
“I had one brother who was in the Navy, he was in Italy, and the other was in Germany in the Battle of the Bulge,” Parda said. “I remember D-Day and hearing about those poor guys. My heart was in my throat that day.”
Parda said he’s been interested in learning about history, including D-Day, for a long time.
While he ate his lunch, Parda spoke about his time in the Navy. He worked on a ship that housed seaplanes.
“The pilots would land the planes and we would bring the planes in or take care of them if they crashed,” Parda said. “Then we would bring them back in the morning and make sure they left — that’s all I did.”
Parda was also modest about his service.
“A lot of these guys saw action,” Parda said. “I didn’t. I enlisted in March 1945, I dropped out of school so I could enlist and my sister picked up my high school diploma.”
Ninety-one-year-old Herb Hohengasser of Greenfield was in the Navy and fought in the Pacific as well. He said he recalls celebrating his 18th birthday in the Phillipines during his year-and-a-half of service.
When asked about what happened when he came home, Hohengasser said, “We were all kids when we went over there, and we still all kids when we came back.”
In France, President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron praised the soldiers, sailors and airmen, the survivors and those who lost their lives, in powerful speeches Thursday that credited the June 6, 1944, surprise air and sea operation that brought tens of thousands of men to Normandy, each not knowing whether he would survive the day.
“You are the pride of our nation, you are the glory of our republic and we thank you from the bottom of our heart,” Trump said of the warriors engaged in the ultimate fight of good against evil in World War II.
Macron praised their courage, generosity and strength of spirit that made them press on “to help men and women they didn’t know, to liberate a land most hadn’t seen before, for no other cause but freedom, democracy.”
He expressed France’s debt to the United States for freeing his country from the reign of the Nazis. Macron awarded five American veterans with the Chevalier of Legion of Honor, France’s highest award.
“We know what we owe to you, veterans, our freedom,” he said, switching from French to English. “On behalf of my nation I just want to say ‘thank you.’”
Material from the Associated Press was used in this story.