ANNISTON, Ala. (WIAT) — Dozens gathered at the Berman Museum of World History Thursday morning to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day. In attendance were a handful of World War II veterans, each with their own unique story.
Plemmer East was just 21 years old on June 6th, 1944. He was in Italy at the time, but two months later, he would take part in the invasion of southern France, known as “Operation Dragoon.”
“Battleships shelled the coast for a day and a night or so,” East said. “Any battle is bad as far as I’m concerned, but you do what you’re trained to do.”
Meanwhile, Reginald Climes was on the other side of the planet. He was 19, and would later go on to serve aboard the USS Bennington in the Pacific Theater.
He vividly remembers fending off Japanese aviators.
“We did have one [Japanese bomber] that flew all the way across the flight deck,” Climes said. “But the bomber doors must have been stuck because it never dropped a bomb.”
For William Wilkens, his story is one of near-calamity. His plane was hit and losing fuel fast, yet he managed to land safely.
“We lucked out. We lost an engine. We lost a lot of gas. We didn’t have enough to cross the channel,” said Wilkens. “[Our options were] either land or bail out. So, what happened was [General George] Patton took an airfield two days before and that’s where we went in. We landed there and flew out the next day.”
Each of the three veterans united in Anniston at the Berman Museum’s “D-Day Salute.” Looking back, they agree they’re proud to have served and thankful to be able to see the 75th anniversary of D-Day for themselves.
“I feel honored and I’m proud of the museum and other places recognizing what the Army did,” said East.
“Oh I’m glad to see [the 75th anniversary],” said Climes. “I will probably not make it another year. I hope I do but, this is probably the last D-Day for me.”
A point echoed by Kent Davis, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Veteran’s Affairs. Davis tells CBS 42 that with this being the 75th anniversary, the next major milestone will be the centennial in 2044.
That means that this D-Day celebration will more than likely be the last celebrated with veterans who bravely fought on that historic day.
“[This is] probably the last large gathering we have just because of the aging population of those that participated in the D-Day invasion,” said Davis. “So, this is a last chance for us en masse to say thank you to the greatest generation for all of those sacrifices so long ago.”