D-Day vets reflect on what was lost on Normandy's beach - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina |

D-Day vets reflect on what was lost on Normandy's beach

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FRANCE (WIS) -

Seventy years after thousands of American and Allied soldiers stormed the beaches of Normandy, 22 South Carolinians have returned to France to celebrate and reflect on one of the most important military invasions in history. 

The vets took a break today to look further back into the regional history of a town called Bayeux. What many found were reminders of why they fought there 70 years ago.

A millennia ago, William the Conqueror pursued power and used war to get it. Exhibits honoring his ambition tell veterans not much has changed since the 11th century.

"Someone will always want to be the power of the nation," said veteran Gerald White. "It's history repeating itself."

But ambition was not the reason these veterans fought. Some were drafted, some enlisted, but all knew what was at stake.

"At least we knew who the enemy was," said White. "[Hitler] really wanted to rule the world. They hated us. They wanted to rule the world, and they almost did."

"We had to protect our country and do what we thought was right or we wouldn't be talking English today," said veteran Clifford Dill. "We'd probably be talking Russian."

Seventy-three thousand American troops participated in D-Day. Although they eventually won that battle due to better training and great numbers, it's the sting of what was lost that often overshadows the victory.

"Our flotilla had 200 men," said Navy veteran John Gatton, "and we lost four units. It was one of the worst. There was 2400 soldiers killed there. Eighteen, 19 years old."

Despite the unforgettable losses, some veterans say they found spirituality in the small towns and fields of northern France.

"We didn't know if we were going to get killed or what not, so we went to party," said Dill. "A little boy came walking up the road. And he asked each of the five guys if they'd like to go to church with him. He came up to me and asked me, and I had a bottle of whiskey. I gave it to the guys and I told the little boy, c'mon, lets me and him go to church. And that's how I got saved."

But for that, and anything good that came out of the war, a price was paid in blood.

"The little boy, I found before I left Germany was out was playing in a field and stepped on a mine," said Dill.

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