SAINTE MERE EGLISE, France (Army News Service, June 4, 2009) Aca,!" Although sun and waves come together to create a serene picture of Sainte Mere Eglise today, sixty-five years ago Saturday it was the site of one of the bloodiest battles in history.
On June 6, 1944, French, U. S. and other allied forces stood together on D-Day to fight the German occupiers of France. During the battle for the beaches of Normandy, paratroopers from American, British and Canadian forces landed along a 50-mile stretch of the Normandy coast.
It was largest single-day amphibious invasion in history, with 160,000 troops landing. Each year since the liberation of Normandy, allied forces have come here to honor those who fought here that day.
Sgt. 1st Class Steve Selvage, said he has waited 22 years to see the Normandy beaches and participate in commemoration ceremonies here.
"I have wanted to get here since my first year here in Germany. I just never had the chance," said the 3rd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment Soldier stationed in Vilseck, Germany. "It is a great honor."
Although Selvage's role here escorting distinguished visitors to the ceremony is a busy one, he has some time to take in the local sights. And when Selvage packed his gear for the week, he added a book by Stephen Ambrose he's had more than 10 years.
"I brought the book, 'D-Day,' which I have read at least three times," said the 23-year veteran. "I brought it strictly for reference when seeing some of the sights."
On one trip into Sainte Mere Eglise, Selvage, a father of three Aca,!" including one son serving in Iraq - spotted an older gentleman in a leather bomber jacket passing by and overheard a couple British soldiers say, "There goes Ralph Manley." He immediately set out to meet the 91-year-old D-Day veteran.
Without knowing what to say, he approached Manley, book in hand, hoping to hear the first-hand tale of a surviving D-Day veteran.
"These guys are legends. They accomplished something I could never imagine," said Selvage. "I think it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
It was also his last chance. Selvage is retiring from in the Army in a couple of months and many of the survivors are now in their 80s or older. Of the more than 154,000 allied forces that landed on Normandy, an estimated 10,000 were killed, wounded, missing or captured, and as the years have passed, more and more of the survivors have passed away or are now too elderly for a trip here.
While listening to Manley's story, Selvage said, the veteran noticed the D-Day book in the sergeant's hand. He reached for the book, opened its cover and signed a small memo inside.
"It was really enough that he would just sit and share his experiences with us," said Selvage. "He really didn't have to sign it for the experience to mean any more to me."
Although Manley is not mentioned in the book, that didn't lessen the experience for those who listened to his story. "Some people may say that just because he wasn't mentioned by name in a book that he was just an average GI," said SelvageAca,!a,,cs buddy, Sgt. 1st Class Patrick Martin. "But to me, these guys are legends."
Later at his tent before lights-out, as Selvage took time to rest and reflect, he looked back through the book and pointed out the autograph to other Soldier friends, sharing his experience.
"You really just could not imagine what it was like until you stand on that beach or talk to one of the original veterans of that day in person," he said. "These guys always will be heroes in my book."
(Air Force Tech. Sgt. Michael Voss serves with the 435th Air Base Wing Public Affairs Office.)