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Last Updated: Sunday, 6 June, 2004, 16:04 GMT 17:04 UK
Veterans share D-Day memories
BBC Northern Ireland's Chris Capper
reports for BBC News Online from Arromanche, Normandy

The veterans have been arriving in greater numbers, moving slowly and most with the aid of walking sticks, through the main street of this small town.

The British all wear their berets and their medals, instantly recognisable as those who helped liberate Normandy and often stopped by people wanting to talk to them and make them welcome.

Stanley Burrows fought with the Royal Ulster Rifles during WWII

They also stop to talk to each other.

Royal Ulster Rifles veterans Stanley Burrows from Belfast and Richard Keegan from Lurgan meet Erik, who tells them he drove a US Army tank from D-Day in Normandy to Czechoslovakia.

They also compare their experiences of heart operations - seven bypasses between the three of them.

They fear that if this, the 60th anniversary, is the last major commemoration of D-Day, it will soon be forgotten.

But they say that as long as they can walk, they will keep returning to Normandy.

While the number of veterans appearing is increasing, they are still few when one considers the two million or so men landed here between D-Day and the end of August 1944.

But 1,000 of them were invited to parade in Arromanches on Sunday for the international commemoration attended by heads of state, including the Queen, presidents George W Bush, Vladimir Putin and Jacques Chirac, and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

In the meantime, the veterans of the many regiments and units across the Services here will visit the places that matter to them.

Stanley Burrows and Richard Keegan, of the second battalion the Royal Ulster Rifles, were meeting up with a half-dozen veterans of the first battalion at the Douvres war cemetery.

There was also the dedication of the British Memorial Garden at Caen, attended by Prince Charles, whom some of the first battalion RUR veterans had the opportunity to meet when he unveiled a replica Horsa glider, the aircraft which brought that airborne battalion into Normandy on D-day.

They may have been different battles - one may have been Korea, one may have been here in Normandy - but they were all fighting for their life.
Stanley Burrows
WW2 veteran

On Monday, the RUR veterans will go to their own memorials.

For the second battalion, that means Cambes woods, where they met deadly resistance from the Germans - some 200 soldiers were killed or injured in that action.

The first battalion lost many men too, as they fought their way into Caen - the first British soldiers to arrive there (although others try to claim that distinction).

It is a busy and, at times, emotional few days for all the veterans who have travelled to Normandy.

It is also a time of joy, in meeting other veterans and, ultimately, in simply being alive when so many others were not given the chance to grow old.

It's that sacrifice that many veterans feel is not properly recognised, particularly in Northern Ireland, at least as far as Richard Keegan is concerned.

"When you go round the cemeteries and see the young fellas, 20, 21, 22, lying in their graves that came from Northern Ireland - and the Irish Republic - it's a disgrace because they are forgotten men and they shouldn't be forgotten, ever."

He also feels there's little understanding of the survivors from that time.

British troops wait for the signal to move forward in Normandy

"The only ones that have any respect for me are my own British Legion in Lurgan. They respect me, but outside of that....I don't even talk about it."

Something that must add to the experience of returning to Normandy is the respect and gratitude these men are shown.

At the Invasion Museum in Arromanche, in a private side room, is a painting.

Its three sections depict the invasion, the liberation and Arromanche today - and it includes the words "Thank You".

Each of the veterans who visit the museum is invited to sign the painting.

Richard Keegan's and Stanley Burrows' names are now on it, alongside the other veterans who have been coming here and who like to talk to each other when they meet, because, says Stanley Burrows, they understand.

"There's something in the old soldiers, what they've been through. They may have been different battles - one may have been Korea, one may have been here in Normandy - but they were all fighting for their life.

"No matter where they are, even in Iraq today, a soldier's fighting for life - and when we meet each other, it's a tremendous joy to us. The sadness is the ones we left behind, the ones who gave their today for our tomorrow."

Here in Normandy, surrounded by all that goes with this anniversary commemoration, it's easy to feel sympathy for the old soldier's view.

On Sunday, the German chancellor came to commemorate D-day for the first time. As the men who fought in a divided Europe 60 years ago parade in Arromanche, the new Europe will be on the hilltop, alongside the US president.

In that new world, what place will D-Day, and all it meant, occupy?

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