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Honor the heroes today

Thursday, June 6, is the 75th anniversary of one of the major turning points of World War II.

More than 160,000 Allied troops landed on the coastline of France, parachuting in and wading ashore, with the goal of beginning an assault that would free the country from occupation by Nazi Germany.

Despite a sophisticated campaign of deception, the Germans were ready. Snipers gunned down many of the troops before they even made it ashore. Others died as they attempted to run up the beach.

The Allied troops suffered losses in the thousands. Not too far from here, the little town of Bedford suffered 19 losses on D-Day, plus four more later in the Normandy campaign. Proportionally, Bedford suffered the nation’s severest D-Day losses.

Some men who now live in Suffolk were storming those beaches, too, including current resident Robert “Jack” Ewald.

He fought in the Army’s 29th Infantry Division. He was 19 years old when he stopped in the waters off that French beach to try to grab a comrade who was injured and pull him to shore. He felt a gun in his back and his captain urging him not to stop.

Ewald, along with other veterans, will be at an official ceremony in France this Sunday. At 94 years old, Ewald is truly blessed to be alive and to be able to travel.

However, many of the 160,000 who kicked off the Normandy campaign have not been so lucky. If they didn’t die during the assault, or during the rest of the war, many have died since. Ewald is one of a precious few that we should all treasure during the time they have left on earth.

Each year that passes, fewer and fewer of the brave men who stormed the beaches amid a hail of opposing gunfire and artillery remain with us to tell about their experience. If you meet one today, take a moment to ask him to share his story, and then shake his hand and thank him for being made of the stuff that made America great.