In photos: The last WWII veterans mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day

UTAH BEACH, France — These are no ordinary beaches. There are few sunbathers. There are no volleyball games or barbecues.

Eighty years after a massive invasion force landed here, beginning the liberation of German-occupied France, an unmistakable solemnity lingers on the sands.

More than 4,000 allied troops died on D-Day. But even amid the tremendous loss of life, some survived. And on this 80th anniversary, some of those who are living still came here to remember.

Steve Melnikoff, a 104-year-old from Cockeysville, Md., is one of those last veterans.

“I’m a D-Day man,” he proclaimed with pride, sporting a blue-and-gray necktie, an ode to the yin-yang insignia of the 29th Infantry Division he fought with.


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Melnikoff was a 24-year-old private on a ship in the English Channel on D-Day, coming ashore the next day. He would go on to earn four Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts during the war. He emphasized, though, that it was the soldiers interred at the American Cemetery who deserved tribute. “It was those men. Especially the ones in that cemetery that are up there on that hill. It was those men that gave their lives so that we could make it back,” he said. “Those are the people that are the real heroes.”

Most American forces landed on the beaches with the code names Omaha and Utah. Between those sandy stretches are miles of steep, rocky cliffs. The overgrown ruins of bunkers, pillboxes and machine-gun nests still offer a commanding view.

Inland from Utah Beach is the village of St. Marie du Mont, where an ornate stone Catholic church occupies a prominent place in the main square, just like in so many other villages in Normandy.

Tourists, locals and visiting active duty U.S. military shared picnic tables on the church’s lawn this week. Occasionally, handfuls of World War II veterans would arrive. Swarms of admirers crowded around on all sides, seeking photos and autographs.

French veteran Jean Turco fought against the German blitzkrieg in 1940 before France ultimately fell to the Nazis at the end of the six-week battle. This week, at age 106, he was seated in a wheelchair and wrapped in a blanket for warmth, while he received a long line of his countrymen eager to pay their respects.

With an average of 200 World War II veterans dying every day, according to estimates from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, this will likely be the last major D-Day anniversary with a sizable group of veterans in attendance. Indeed, if a veteran was 18 years old on D-Day, he would be 104 by the time the 85th anniversary arrives in 2029.

Photographer Luke Sharrett attended the commemorations.

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