Dozens of veterans, their families and friends on marked the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion of France on June 6, 1944, Saturday at Cantigny Park in Wheaton.
Brothers John and Jim Rudins of Lombard attended to honor the memory of their father, a World War II veteran who wasn't among D-Day troops but served as a radar detection technician in China, what was then Burma, and India.
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"He served and defended his country, and he taught us those values … which is why all of us are here today, free and able to talk," said John Ruddins, 63.
More than 160,000 Allied troops landed along that 50-mile stretch of heavily-fortified French coastline on D-Day. The loss of lives was high, with more than 9,000 Allied soldiers killed or wounded.
Roughly 20 surviving World War II and D-Day veterans from the Chicago area were honored during the ceremony.
The 1st Infantry Division played a big part in the D-Day incursion, leading the assault on Omaha Beach where some of the hardest fighting of the war took place, said Paul Herbert, executive director of the First Division Museum at Cantigny Park. Museum employees visited Normandy, France, last year and brought back sand from Omaha Beach, one of five beaches that served as theaters for the Allied incursion. The sand was buried at the base of a half-scale replica of a monument at the U.S. Cemetery at Normandy where more than 9,000 American service members are buried, Herbert said.
Today, there are more than 1 million surviving World War II veterans nationwide, and more than 36,000 in Illinois.
Graham Paul, the consul general of France to Chicago, said his nation would never forget what it owes America and its veterans.
"Let's never forget that the United States and France owe each other their very existence as free nations … our two countries have always stood shoulder-to-shoulder to defend and promote the values of freedom and democracy that are the core of who we are," he said. "Thank you for what you've done."
Paul awarded the French Legion of Honor medal to James W. Reid, who was among the wave of troops that landed on Utah Beach June 7, 1944.
"He endured some of the most horrific fighting of the war," Paul said. "Mr. Reid, 70 years ago, you were ready to sacrifice your young life for our freedom … for a country that was not even yours. Now it is. It is the highest that my country can bestow upon those who have achieved remarkable deeds for France."
Reid was 18 years old when he joined the military and served as a private first class in the 344th Infantry Regiment of the 90th Infantry Division. In September 1944, he was wounded by machine gun fire in Thionville in the Lorraine region of France, but fought his way across Western Europe until May 5, 1945. Reid also has been awarded the Purple Heart and many other medals.
"I feel very honored in receiving the French Legion of Honor medal," said Reid, 89, of Oak Brook. "So many men deserve it more that will never see the light of day."
Reid said he is happy to see the sacrifices of so many friends lost in the conflict being recognized.
"It was a wonderful celebration to dedicate to D-Day," he said. "It's a contribution to all those deceased."