Honouring the fallen from a distance for the second year running

Honouring the fallen makes this time of the year normally quite a busy period with commemorations. The end of May sees Memorial Day in the US. A week later, on 5 June, the Liberation of Rome took place. And only a day later the Allied landings on the beaches of Normandy changed Europe’s fate.

Honouring the fallen at Omaha Beach

For the second year running though, commemorative services faced cancellation, or at least a severe scale-back. But unlike last year, far more alternative formats to mark the occasion are available. Whether a video of the anniversary celebrations at the Go for Broke Monument on Youtube, a recording of a service at a cemetery or just a Zoom meeting to exchange some thoughts… We have all become used to social distancing in a digital world.

Still, there is no substitute for attending real live events and sharing both emotions and stories. Fortunately, there now seems to be light at the end of the tunnel. Vaccinations picking up speed across both Europe and the US.

Memorial Day

Memorial Day commemorates all the men and women who died in military service.

Originally, Memorial Day was known as Decoration Day. The way in which Southern states honoured their dead during the Civil War inspired the custom. After World War I, commemoration extended to all men and women who died in any military action.

Honouring the fallen at Epinal
The group brought together by Carl Williams at the American cemetery of Epinal, honouring the fallen of the fierce battles in the Vosges – October 2019

The current name for this day did not come into use until after World War II. The American Battle Monuments Commission cemeteries are closed to the general public this year. To comply with strict social distancing rules only small-scale services take place. Public participation happens instead via a virtual ceremony from the American Cemetery in Epinal. This corner in the French Vosges is where 13 Nisei are buried or inscribed on the Memorial Wall.

The Liberation of Rome

In Italy, there is the liberation of Rome on 5 June. But just as it was overshadowed at the time by the events of the following day in Normandy, so does today’s marking of the event take a backseat to Liberation Day, which takes place in April instead.

Rome was the first European capitol to be liberated. However, this signalled by no means a decisive defeat of the Nazi occupiers. Lieutenant General Mark Clark’s decision to turn to Rome from Anzio rather than pursue the retreating German forces after the break-through at Montecassino has been the subject of many a contemporary and later assessment…

Honouring the fallen Nisei soldiers a Sicily-Rome cemetery
Study group 2015 at Sicily-Rome American cemetery honouring the fallen soldiers of the 100th Infantry Battalion buried here

It took another nearly 11 months to drive the German troops out of Italy. This explains why Liberation Day – Festa della Liberazione – takes place on 25 April rather than 5 June.

D-Day Landings in Normandy

Operation Overlord was the largest amphibious assault ever launched. Due to launch on 1 May, a delay of over a month brought better weather. A total of 75,215 British and Canadian troops and 57,500 US troops landed by sea on D-Day – 6 June 1944. Another 23,400 airborne troops dropped behind 5 beaches: from Sword in the east, over Juno, Gold and Omaha to Utah in the West.

“Iron Mike” overlooking Omaha Beach

In a normal year, countless remembrance events take place across the peninsula, usually with lots of foreign dignitaries in attendance. Veterans still able to travel would not only be the guests of honour, but also enjoy the occasion to meet old comrades.

Just like the previous edition however, the 77th anniversary of the landings will pass without any mass events and without any veterans present. Only time will tell how many will still be able to make the next edition.

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