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D-Day spirit of remembrance lives on, despite the pandemic

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Charles Shay, the 96-year-old native American from Indian Island, Maine, salutes during a D-Day ceremony in Carentan, Normandy, Friday, June 4, 2021. In a small Normandy town where paratroopers landed in the early hours of D-Day, applauds broke the silence to honor Charles Shay. He was the only veteran to attend the ceremony in Carentan commemorating the 77th anniversary of the assault that led to the end World War II. Shay was a 19-year-old U.S. Army medic when he landed on Omaha Beach. (AP Photo/Nicolas Garriga)

CARENTAN – In a small Normandy town where paratroopers landed in the early hours of D-Day, applause broke the silence to honor Charles Shay. He was the only veteran attending a ceremony in Carentan commemorating the 77th anniversary of the assault that helped bring an end to World War II.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, this year's D-Day commemorations are taking place with travel restrictions that have prevented veterans or families of fallen soldiers from the U.S., Britain and other allied countries from making the trip to France. Only a few officials were allowed exceptions.

Shay, who now lives in Normandy, was a 19-year-old U.S. Army medic when he landed on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. Today, he recalls the “many good friends” he lost on the battlefield.

Under a bright sun, the 96-year-old Penobscot Native American from Indian Island, Maine, stood steadily while the hymns of the Allied countries were played Friday in front of the monument commemorating the assault in Carentan that allowed the Allies to establish a continuous front joining nearby Utah Beach to Omaha Beach.

Shay regretted that the pandemic “is interrupting everything.” He is expected to be the only veteran at Sunday’s anniversary day ceremony at the Normandy American Cemetery of Colleville-sur-Mer.

“We have no visitors coming to France this year for two years now. And I hope it will be over soon,” he told The Associated Press in Carentan.

Shay’s lone presence is all the more poignant as the number of survivors of the epochal battle dwindles. Only one veteran now remains from the French commando unit that joined U.S, British, Canadian and other allied troops in storming Normandy’s code-named beaches.

While France is planning to open up to vaccinated visitors starting next week, that comes too late for the D-Day anniversary. So for the second year in a row, most public commemoration events have been cancelled. A few solemn ceremonies have been maintained, with dignitaries and a few guests only.