SEBRING — As Highlands County and the United States observes the 70th anniversary of D-Day, it’s becoming increasing difficult to find living veterans who served their county on June 6, 1944.
D-Day -- which is the name given to the beginning of a military operation -- in this case referred to the invasion of Normandy, which was aimed at liberating mainland Europe from German occupation during World War II.
Most Highlands County veterans’ groups say they likely do not have veterans from that day, at a time when many World War II veterans are dying.
Many of these associations say they have fewer than 20 members, who are W.W.II veterans.
Reggi Toler, an employee at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4300 in Sebring, said she fondly remembers a 101-year-old World War II veteran who died not long ago. Three other veterans from that war died recently, she said.
“I’ve been here for seven years and have seen a bunch pass away,” Toler said.
The post will honor everyone who served during D-Day. Bob Ryon, a former commander of Post 4300, who is now honor guard captain, said a flag-raising ceremony will be held today at 11 a.m. at the post. It will include a 21-gun salute, he said. The event is open to the public.
When Ryon thinks about D-Day, he thinks “of how many died in that campaign.”
He said he read recently that Gen. Dwight Eisenhower sent 5,000 paratroopers behind enemy lines, while estimating that 80 percent would die.
Robert Goldsmith, who lives in Tanglewood, said he served in the U.S. Navy during World War II.
He said he and others arrived in the Normandy area some nine days after D-Day and became part of the continuing battle.
He said he continued serving, and received the Bronze Star in 1945. He also served during the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam.
Goldsmith, 91, said for him the significance of D-Day was that it was the beginning of the operation.
A veteran of the Korean War, who did not want his name used, said the D-Day landing at Normandy broke records on moving men and equipment.
He said he knew several World War II veterans, probably some who served during D-Day. But few wanted to talk about their experiences.
“A lot of the gentlemen just wanted to forget it,” he said. “It was brutal.”
At American Legion Post 74, Linda Dobbs said she heard many stories from her father who died recently at the age of 88. She said he served during D-Day.
Bob Wilcox, a veteran at AmVets Post 21 in Sebring, said he remembers the sacrifice so many made to protect freedom.
“I’m sorry that so many lost their lives,” he said. But it was one step toward freedom, he said.
His father served during World War II, but there is not a whole lot he knows about happened.
“My dad wouldn’t talk about the war other than saying that he served under Gen. (George) Patton,” Wilcox said.