Following the ceremony, Eugene Cook was surrounded. Unlike his experience in Normandy 68 years ago, this time he was surrounded by good guys, hundreds of them, asking for his autograph, seeking a handshake or offering a salute. Cook, of Newnan, Ga., and four other D-Day veterans were honored at a monument in front of the ancient church at Angoville-au-Plain, France, where human compassion overcame military conflict on at least two occasions during the Normandy invasion that began the end of World War II.
"You are not going to let me go get a drink, are you?" Cook asked his fans, of all nationalities, who had gathered Saturday for the first of many ceremonies to honor the invasion's anniversary. "You guys are not going to sell these, are you?"
Here, in the bootprints of history, U.S. veterans are revered. "This is my 34th or 35th time back," said Cook, a paratrooper in the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division during World War II. "It never changes. The response goes from generation to generation."
Alongside Cook were fellow D-Day veterans Donald Burgett of Michigan, Phillip Curtis of Georgia, Jack Womer of Maryland and Raymond Silvestre of Michigan. All were involved in the initial assault that led to victory over Germany in 1945.
Angoville-au-Plain is an especially meaningful place in D-Day history, where U.S. Army medics treated the wounded from both sides of the battle inside a church that dates back to the time of William the Conqueror. On at least two occasions, German patrols attempted to seize the church but changed plans after they saw that combatants from both sides were receiving medical attention inside. The church was famously portrayed in the award-winning film series "Band of Brothers."
American Legion National Commander Fang A. Wong is in Normandy this week to recognize the D-Day anniversary, pay tribute to the fallen heroes of the invasion and to meet with active-duty paratroops who are training there. Tens of thousands attend the annual commemoration.