ROANOKE, Va. – It started as a simple “thank you” when he realized there was no big local tribute for the veterans who helped liberate his country of France. Over time, however, Bernard Marie’s World War II dinner grew into an annual event that honored hundreds of veterans.
Marie passed away on Friday. Close friends of his tell us that he had been in failing health for some time.
“He was a very caring person,” explained his longtime friend Bart Wilner. “He was a very generous person.”
While the world may have lost Marie, the hope that was inside of him lives on in everyone that met him, especially those who knew him best.
Since 1984, Marie hosted an annual dinner on the evening of June 5 to pay homage to the troops who helped liberate his home country, France. Not only is June 5 his birthday, but it’s also the anniversary of the last day he and his family spent under Nazi occupation.
Bart Wilner was friends with Marie for more than 30 years.
Originally, Marie’s dinner was a luncheon with only 40-50 veterans. He always paid with his own money.
Wilner says he encouraged Marie to make the event larger.
“I said, ‘Bernard, you should open this up to the public. You’re just inviting D-Day people,’” said Wilner.
Within a year, it became a big success.
“It’s interesting how one person can make a huge difference many, many years later,” said Wilner. “That’s something we should all learn because we can all do that in our own way with our own interests.”
Wilner last saw Marie the day before he passed.
Marie started the tribute due to the fact that he felt as if not enough was being done to honor those who sacrificed their lives and fought for the Allied Forces. He wanted to make sure that their heroic actions would not be forgotten.
In June 2016, WWII veterans took the time to thank him, too. To express their gratitude, he was presented with the Patriot Award.
He also wrote a book titled, “D-Day in the Eyes of a Boy,” where he shares his story about his life in France while under Nazi occupation.