Vets look to make final trip to Normandy on D-Day's 70th anniver - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina |

Vets look to make final trip to Normandy on D-Day's 70th anniversary

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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

Sitting, or just talking with World War II veterans John Cummer and Vernon Brantley leaves you in awe. 

"Like most young American guys at that time, I wanted to go do my part," said Brantley.

"I was Navy, World War II. I was a 19-year-old kid at the time of D-Day," said Cummer.

Cummer was a U.S. Navy gunners' mate on a landing craft. He made 27 trips across the English Channel landing light infantry troops on Gold Beach. 

For the 89-year-old, this trip is about laying eyes on his beach one more time.

"I want to go back and see some of these things, remembering the men that didn't come back, remembering the things that you were delivered from," said Cummer.

There are memories of war the veterans try to erase, but there are some moments they fight to hold on to. For Cummer, it was finding a quiet place on his crowded little ship to read Psalms 91:7.

"Here I am down in this little still compartment and getting ready to sail for D-Day and I open up this thing and I read about 'Though a thousand fall at your side, though ten thousand are dying around you, these evils will not touch you,' said Cummer. "And I thought, 'Well that's not a promise that I'm going to come through,' but it kind of gives you a common the peace about the whole thing."

"So any time I read that thing or hear that, I'm immediately almost transported back to that little steel compartment, in the back of the ship there, by myself, sitting on a can of ammunition and reading that thing, and that's a great memory for me."

One of the most treasured memories for Brantley is marrying his sweetheart just before heading off to war. He was a part of the infantry forces deployed into Auken, Germany, where the Germans made their last big drive.

"There's a certain sense kicks in, you're trained to do specific job and react to certain way regardless of what your other senses tell you in that will to live, the will to not let your buddies down and everything else," said Brantley. "You'll do almost superhuman things"

He's proud of his service, but he says he's never felt like a professional veteran.

"I felt like I did my duty, that everyone should, I firmly believe that every young man should serve his country for one year whether it's in the Peace Corps or whatever, but I think he should get up every morning, brush his teeth, put on his clothes, and go do something that's worthwhile and that's above and beyond himself," said Brantley.

The 70th anniversary trip is being organized by Army widow Jeanne Palyok. She founded the non-profit Operation Overlord, which was the code name for the Normandy invasion. The sole purpose is honoring our brave men who fought in the European theater during World War II.

"I feel that every American should do something, you know, and I feel that this is something that they can really do," said Palyok.

It's hard to describe how they will feel when they deploy on Operation Overlord 70 years later.  All they know is, they don't want to miss it.

"It's hard to say how I'm going to feel when I get over there, but I'm looking forward to it. I never thought I would have this opportunity," said Brantley.

"I think there will be a certain amount of awe, a certain amount of jubilation in a sense, and a lot of them remembering and asking the question that men our age sometime ask, have I earned what I've gotten? These men, some of them never came back, and they sacrificed all they paid the price, have I earned the life that they bought for me? Have I made what I should make out of my life as a result of the sacrifice those men made and never came back," said Cummer.

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