Good morning, Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Friday, May 10, 2019, which is Military Spouse Appreciation Day, Child Care Provider Appreciation Day, National Small Business Day, and Clean Up Your Room Day.
Today in History:
- On this day in 1869, the presidents of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads meet in Promontory, Utah, and drive a ceremonial last spike into a rail line that connects their railroads. This made transcontinental railroad travel possible for the first time in U.S. history.
- On this day in 1877, President Rutherford B. Hayes has the White House’s first telephone installed in the mansion’s telegraph room.
- 1940: Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, is called to replace Neville Chamberlain as British prime minister following the latter’s resignation after losing a confidence vote in the House of Commons.
- Eight climbers die on Mount Everest during a storm on this day in 1996. It was the worst loss of life ever on the mountain on a single day.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
- St. Louis Post-Dispatch: 100 years ago: St. Louis throws a homecoming party for the ages***
- Stars & Stripes: House lawmakers question VA’s ability to meet deadline for GI Bill changes
- Military Times: Big boost in VA funding could be halted by border wall funding fight
- Military Times: How a new plan aims to keep military spouses working
- Defense News: Trump nominates Shanahan as next defense secretary
- Military.com: In First, Pentagon to Release Information on Military Dependent Suicides
- Associated Press: One by one, D-Day memories fade as war’s witnesses die
***Links to page with lots of historical American Legion photos
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St. Louis Post-Dispatch: 100 years ago: St. Louis throws a homecoming party for the ages
*NOTE: The story on the Post-Dispatch website includes a lot of historical photos related to the original Legion caucus and The American Legion’s history in St. Louis. I didn’t include them in this email so as to not bombard your inboxes with a bunch of photos, but if you have a chance, click the link above to check them out.
By Tim O’Neil | St. Louis Post-Dispatch | 6 hrs ago
ST. LOUIS • The doughboys formed ranks in favor of "100 percent Americanism" and against the city of Chicago.
The veterans of World War I who created The American Legion first met on American soil in a theater downtown on May 8, 1919. The killing had ended six months before. They adopted a national constitution, promoted employment for veterans and cheered Col. Theodore Roosevelt Jr., a war hero and son of the late former president.
The 1,079 delegates gathered in the Shubert-Jefferson Theater of the Union Electric building, Olive and 12th streets. By happy coincidence, St. Louis also was hosting a raucous welcome home for the 138th Infantry Regiment. The unit had formed here and fought in the Argonne Forest in France in the last weeks of the war.
On May 9, the 138th’s soldiers marched through cheering mobs and passed in front of the Shubert-Jefferson, which became a convenient reviewing stand for legion delegates who mingled with the crowds.
"What a handsome leader," a woman shouted to Sgt. Ross Koen as he led L Company down 12th (now Tucker Boulevard). Jimmie Dutton broke through the police line and hugged his marching big brother, W.B. Dutton. Choruses of church bells and locomotive whistles added to the racket.
The 138th had paid dearly for the honor — of 3,500 men who signed up, 230 were killed in combat. Accidents and wounds increased the casualty rate to almost 50 percent. The survivors stepped off trains at the Wabash station near Forest Park and marched downtown in formation with rifles, packs and helmets.
They enjoyed the welcome. But Cpl. Tom Boatwright of Herculaneum said, "I want to get back into civilian clothes."
Two months earlier, legion organizers in France had decided to reconvene here. They were inspired by the Grand Army of the Republic, the association of Union soldiers that had been so influential in the decades after the Civil War.
But their first wish was thwarted. Chanting "We want Teddy," delegates tried to draft Roosevelt Jr. for chairman. "This is going to be a short speech," Roosevelt said — and quickly declined.
Delegates then voted to boycott Chicago as long as Mayor William "Big Bill" Thompson was mayor. A neutralist early in the war, Thompson had allowed an anti-war rally in his city.
Army regulations required the 138th to reboard trains for Camp Funston, Kan. (Fort Riley), to be discharged and sent home. The legion held its first convention that November in Minneapolis, returning here for conventions in 1935, 1953 and 2003. The old UE building was demolished in 1976. The Missouri National Guard’s 138th Infantry, now based in Kansas City, still has a unit here.
Stars & Stripes: House lawmakers question VA’s ability to meet deadline for GI Bill changes
By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES | Published: May 9, 2019
WASHINGTON – Department of Veterans Affairs officials tried to assuage doubts from House lawmakers Thursday about the agency’s ability to successfully implement changes to veterans’ education benefits later this year.
Following a missed deadline in the fall, the VA set a new expectation to have the changes in place by Dec. 1, in time for the spring 2020 semester. Members of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs on Thursday brought VA officials to a joint hearing on Capitol Hill, where they questioned whether the department could follow through.
“I wouldn’t be doing my job if I wasn’t just a bit skeptical,” said Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla. “After all, last year these same kinds of assurances were given to the committee time and time again.”
The Forever GI Bill, approved by Congress in 2017, is a major expansion of veterans’ education benefits. When officials went to make the necessary changes to its information technology systems in the fall, they faced critical errors that resulted in late and incorrect monthly living stipends for student veterans.
In some cases, the delays left veterans scrambling to pay their rent and other bills.
The VA Office of Inspector General reported in March that a lack of accountable leadership was to blame for the problems. Since then, the VA established a team dedicated to meeting the Dec. 1deadline, said VA Undersecretary for Benefits Paul Lawrence.
“We have 10 people that this is their full-time job, this is what they do,” Lawrence said. “There’s a clear focus.”
Charmain Bogue, director of education services at the VA, said the agency would test its new IT system in June and again in October.
“We should have a good sense in early October whether it’s ready for prime-time on Dec. 1,” Bogue said.
Following the Dec. 1 deadline, the VA should be able to provide retroactive funds to all veterans who received incorrect payments and haven’t already been reimbursed, she said.
The onus will be on the more than 14,000 VA-approved schools to submit students’ information in order for them to be paid retroactively. The VA isn’t aware yet of the total amount owed or the number of veterans who were affected.
The VA is providing regular briefings to Congress about the process, but Rep. Mike Levin, D-Calif., described the relationship between VA officials and lawmakers as “somewhat strained,” following delays by the department to share contracting information related to the project.
Levin, chairman of the subcommittee on economic opportunity, said he would schedule another hearing after the VA has tested its new IT system.
“While things haven’t gone smoothly with the Forever GI Bill implementation, it’s important to know we share the same goal,” he said. “We have to take control of this process to prevent the same mishaps from happening again.”
Military Times: Big boost in VA funding could be halted by border wall funding fight
By: Leo Shane III | 13 hours ago
House appropriators advanced a $228 billion budget plan to fund the Department of Veterans Affairs and various military construction projects next fiscal year, adding even more money to veterans programs than the White House has requested.
If it becomes law, the funding plan would give VA officials an increase of more than 10 percent compared to fiscal 2019 levels, the latest in an almost two-decade trend of sizable increases for the department.
The bill also includes language blocking military construction funds from being used for President Donald Trump’s controversial southern border wall project, expected to be a major point of contention in budget debates throughout the summer.
Democrats on the appropriations committee said they are ready for the fight.
“Funds for the wall should not be stolen from previously approved vital military construction projects that are a higher priority than any wall,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla. and head of the committee’s VA-military construction panel.
“Military construction dollars should be used only for the purpose they are provided, which is to support the Department of Defense’ mission, service members and their families.”
Committee Republicans unsuccessfully tried to remove the wall construction restrictions and add in $7.2 billion in additional wall funding for fiscal 2020, calling the border issue a national security threat for the country.
Earlier this year, Trump announced plans to tap more than $3 billion in previously approved military construction funds for wall construction. The move roiled political opponents and has overshadowed all budget negotiations on Capitol Hill.
Despite that disagreement, Thursday’s budget bill received bipartisan support in the final committee vote (31 to 21) and praise from members on both sides for a commitment to funding veterans’ needs.
The fiscal 2020 budget proposal is nearly double the total VA funding level from 10 years ago and more than four times the total in fiscal 2001, when the entire budget was about $45 billion.
The measure includes $94.3 billion in discretionary program funding for VA. That’s about $1 billion more than what the White House requested in March, and represents an increase of more than nine percent from fiscal 2019 levels.
House appropriators included an additional $1 billion in VA construction funds for “seismic corrections at VA facilities nationwide,” an issue that veterans groups have lobbied on for years.
The measure also includes $9.4 billion for mental health programs, $1.9 billion for homeless assistance efforts, and $4.5 billion for community care expansion. Lawmakers added about $35 million in gender-specific veterans programs (now totaling more than $580 million) and mirrored the administration’s request for $840 million for medical and prosthetics research.
Another $222 million was set aside for suicide prevention outreach activities. VA officials faced criticism last year for not using all of that spending account despite a lack of progress on reducing suicides among veterans.
About $1.6 billion is set aside in the measure for VA’s ongoing electronic medical records overhaul, designed to bring their systems into line with military records. Several lawmakers expressed skepticism about the costs — and past money spent on the issue — but agreed to the total because of the importance of synching the systems.
Within the military construction totals (about $10.5 billion), lawmakers included $1.5 billion in family housing funds. That’s up about $141 million from the White House budget request, and was included to address issues “such as mold, vermin, and lead in military family housing.”
That issue has been a focus of Congress in recent months. Military leaders have promised reforms to the department’s privatized housing amid reports of lingering maintenance and health issues at dozens of sites.
The full House is expected to vote on the VA and military construction budget bill in coming weeks. The Republican-led Senate has not yet weighed in with their initial draft of those spending issues yet.
Both sides will need to pass a final compromise on a spending plan — or a short-term budget extension — before Oct. 1 to avoid a partial government shutdown.
As they have in recent years, lawmakers in 2018 approved advanced appropriations for VA medical needs to ensure that department hospitals and medical centers are not shut down in the event of a budget impasse.
Military Times: How a new plan aims to keep military spouses working
By: Leo Shane III | 13 hours ago
In an effort to help military spouses hold onto their jobs, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced new legislation Thursday to create universal licensing standards for a host of professions and to modify state residency rules to ease barriers for frequently moving families.
“We have a whole pool of people who are talented, who have the skills we need for our jobs, and we put up all these barriers to them,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., one of the sponsors of the measure. “This is a way not just to help military spouses, but to help the economy as a whole.”
The bill — dubbed the Portable Certification of Spouses Act — was unveiled on the eve of Military Spouse Appreciation Day at a Capitol Hill event featuring second lady Karen Pence, whose son serves in the Marine Corps.
She announced plans for a White House summit next week with leaders from 46 national businesses to talk about ways to create more job opportunities for the spouses of servicemembers, calling it a critical need for the country.
“Spouses are the backbone of the military family, and they can contribute directly to the strength and readiness of our troops,” Pence said. “It is imperative we support them, because they play a significant role in the defense of our nation.”
Defense Department surveys have shown that about one in four military spouses are unemployed, despite efforts in recent years to find solutions to job challenges facing them. About one-third of those with jobs are in careers that require some type of state occupational license.
States have adopted a patchwork of rules surrounding credentialing and re-licensing rules surrounding military spouses, but many still face long waits and complicated paperwork when seeking a job after a military move.
The new measure aims to fix that in two ways. First, spouses could maintain state residency even after a move, allowing them to keep their current business licenses without running afoul of state laws. Active-duty troops can already choose whether to change their state residency with each move.
Andrea Krull, a Navy wife and public affairs consultant with her own firm, said in the last 15 years as a military spouse she has had eight different addresses. Having to file new business paperwork after every move is confusing and time-consuming.
“And that is time I’m not earning money for my family,” she said at the Capitol Hill press conference. “The rules now really discourage entrepreneurship in the community.”
The new proposal would also provide $10 million over the next five years to create “uniform standards for licenses” to allow spouses working as teachers, nurses, realtors and other occupations to get around state credentialing laws.
Defense Department officials would oversee the creation of interstate compacts to handle the work, avoiding past concerns from state officials about the expenses related to simplifying the processes.
Along with Shaheen, the measure is being sponsored by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.; Rep. Susan Davis, D-Calif.; and Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind. All four — members of their respective chamber’s armed services committee — said they hope to include the proposals in the annual defense authorization bill debate in coming weeks.
Defense News: Trump nominates Shanahan as next defense secretary
By: Aaron Mehta | 14 hours ago
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has seen enough of Patrick Shanahan, and liked what he saw.
After months of expectations, Shanahan, an industry veteran who was thrust into the Pentagon’s top spot after Jim Mattis resigned, is the president’s official pick as the next secretary of defense.
In a statement, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Shanahan’s nomination was “based on his outstanding service to the country and his demonstrated ability to lead” the Defense Department. He has served as acting Defense Secretary since Jan. 1.
Shanahan took to Twitter to thank the president for his confidence.
“If confirmed by the Senate, I will continue the aggressive implementation of our National Defense Strategy,” he wrote. “I remain committed to modernizing the force so our remarkable Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines have everything they need to keep our military lethal and our country safe.”
Shanahan, 56, spent decades at Boeing before he was picked in April 2017 by Trump to serve as Mattis’ deputy secretary of defense. The No. 2 position is essentially the Pentagon’s top manager, responsible not only for its day-to-day priorities, but also for institutional reforms and restructuring sought by the administration.
The nomination comes just days after the conclusion of an Inspector General investigation into whether Shanahan violated his ethics agreement by pushing products made by his former employer. Shanahan consistently denied any wrongdoing, but the investigation is believed to have held up any potential nomination.
As acting secretary since Jan. 1 of this year, Shanahan has had plenty of exposure to both Trump and Congress, While a series of hearings brought less-than-stellar reviews, no serious concerns have cropped up from the Senate Armed Services Committee about his nomination, with committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., having given his tacit, if not fully enthusiastic, support for the nominee.
However, it’s possible Democrats, looking to hurt Trump ahead of next year’s elections, may put up a fight against the nomination. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat who is running for president, could be a critical voice.
What changes are expected?
Across speeches and interviews over the months since becoming acting secretary, Shanahan has made it clear that if given the full job, he will largely stay the course with the policies and goals from the Mattis era.
In particular, he has been vocal about his desire to hew closely to the National Defense Strategy, which calls for a focus on great power competition as opposed to the counterinsurgency campaigns that have dominated America’s military focus for the last 18 years.
Asked what to expect from Shanahan if he were given the top job, an administration official familiar with his thinking said to expect little change from Mattis’ priorities.
“Telling people we need to reprioritize away from counterterrorism operations and focus on Russia and China — Mattis, as a voice, was uniquely postured to explain that, and I think he did," the official said. "The oversight committees are now on board. But the next click down is: What does that mean? And that’s where Shanahan spent the last 18 months, and that’s where he will continue to drive if he becomes secretary of defense.”
As both deputy and acting secretary, Shanahan made it clear his priority is China above all else.
“It’s a constant repetition every day, every week, using all the different tools at our disposal, and constantly saying: ’Remember China, remember the NDS. Remember China, remember the NDS,’" the official said.
Even those who support Shanahan acknowledge he is not an expert in foreign policy. And while that is a major component of the job, Shanahan may be more internally focused than previous secretaries of defense.
For instance, he will likely continue to be a driving voice on the department’s new space architecture, creating U.S. Space Command, the Space Development Agency and, eventually, a Space Force. He has appeared most comfortable in public when addressing that issue, as well as internal reforms sought for the Pentagon.
How is Shanahan’s relationship with the White House?
While many of the overarching themes may line up with those of Mattis, Shanahan’s approach to the White House is expected to be different.
Under Mattis’ tenure, Trump’s major policy initiatives largely involved the Pentagon — including transgender policy, the border wall, the interruption of military exercises in South Korea, a local military parade and the withdrawal from Syria. And the White House did not like delay. Any internal debate on how best to proceed on the president’s requests, instead of just an immediate implementation, was perceived by the White House as disloyalty and slow-rolling.
With Mattis, too, there was a sense from White House officials that the Pentagon was actively pushing back in some cases against the president’s wishes.
Shanahan has been a quick study of that dissatisfaction and has made it a priority to communicate to the president that the slow-rolling stops under his management.
“Mr. President, we are ready for this task,” Shanahan said to Trump in January, as the president visited the Defense Department to announce its new Missile Defense Strategy. “This is the department of ‘get stuff done.’ ”
The official described the difference between Mattis’ and Shanahan’s relationship with the president as a question of approach. In Shanahan’s eyes, the official said, Trump is “the higher headquarters. He gives us a legal order, and the answer is ‘yes.’ His job is to understand the intent of his boss and come back with options and come back with his recommendation."
“Start with ‘yes’ and then come back with options," the official added. "What you’ll see play out, is: ‘Got it, boss, we’ll do it, but let me come back with the best way to do that.’ ”
Supporters of Shanahan say this approach has helped smooth the withdrawal from Syria and manage the situation in Afghanistan.
Like Mattis, Shanahan has not sought out cameras with which he could communicate to the public. However, he has repeatedly pledged to restart start on-camera briefings, and he recently brought in a new head of communications.
Military.com: In First, Pentagon to Release Information on Military Dependent Suicides
9 May 2019 | Military.com | By Patricia Kime
The Pentagon will release a new annual report on active-duty military suicides this year — one that will provide complete data for 2018 as well as a first-ever look at suicides among military family members.
In a hearing before the House Oversight and Reform national security subcommittee Wednesday, Navy Capt. Mike Colston, the Defense Department’s mental health director, and Defense Suicide Prevention Office Director Karin Orvis said the new report will allow for more timely publication of suicide rates, which are a more accurate measure of trends than yearly tallies.
Currently, the DoD publishes quarterly reports of the number of deaths in the previous three months, with the year-end data included in the fourth-quarter report for the calendar year.
It also publishes the Department of Defense Suicide Event Report, or DoDSER, an in-depth look at each suicide and suicide attempt for the year, including rates, methods, circumstances, prior medical history and more. It is usually published 18 months to two years after the subject year.
But the DoD has not published the final figures or the rates for 2018 and declined to provide them earlier this month when asked by Military.com. Instead, they will be included in the new report, called the Annual Suicide Report, expected this summer, officials said.
"The Annual Suicide Report will enable us to monitor trends in suicide over time and identify risk factors for protective factors for suicide," Orvis told lawmakers during the hearing.
The U.S. military in 2018 experienced the highest number of suicides among active-duty troops in six years, according to data compiled by Military.comfrom statistics provided by the services.
A total of 321 active-duty members took their lives during the year, including 57 Marines, 68 sailors, 58 airmen, and 138 soldiers.
The deaths equal the total number of active-duty personnel who died by suicide in 2012, the record since the services began closely tracking the issue in 2001.
The suicide rate among active-duty troops doubled from 1999 to 2016, to nearly 22 per 100,000 service members. Colston called it the Defense Department’s "biggest public health problem."
"Our trend is worse than the secular trend, and we need to fix it," Colston said.
But while much attention has been focused on the issue of veteran suicides and the 6,000 former service members who die each year, suicides among active-duty personnel remain under the radar and stubbornly high.
Colston and Orvis said the DoD has improved mental health treatment, embedded therapists and mental health providers in units, and introduced a policy in 2017 on suicide prevention.
Orvis said the Pentagon is currently evaluating compliance across the services with the policy, DoD Instruction 6490.16.
Following a record number of deaths by suicide in 2012, the Pentagon also established a general officer steering committee on suicide prevention to address "present, emerging and future suicide prevention needs." The steering committee is intended to provide guidance to the department on successful suicide prevention efforts.
But a source with knowledge of the committee’s meetings told Military.com in early February that the number of generals attending the meeting dropped significantly after former Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Pete Chiarelli, a champion of mental health treatment for troops and suicide prevention efforts, retired in 2012.
Orvis, who was named to her post in March, said the department has made strides in addressing the issue within the services. "I know we have much more work to do, but I take this charge very seriously."
Terri Tanielian, an analyst with Rand Corp. who has studied mental health and suicide prevention for more than 25 years, described the past six years of increasing suicide rates among Americans, veterans and military personnel as a "harrowing rallying cry for improved effort in suicide prevention."
"There have been major awareness campaigns — pushup challenges, the sale of trigger rings — designed to call on the public to do something. But what are we asking them to do? As a nation, we need to do more than just acknowledge we have a veteran suicide problem," Tanielian said.
She said the DoD and the Department of Veterans Affairs must continue their current efforts but also should take a four-pronged approach to suicide that includes zero tolerance for assault and harassment, including sexual assault; reduction in work-related stress, which can increase dependence on alcohol and cause lack of sleep, both known risk factors for suicide; work to improve the U.S. mental health system overall; and reduce access to firearms.
"Firearms are the method of suicide for more than 70 percent of suicide deaths," Tanielian said. "Policies that directly address the risk that firearms pose need to be created, enacted and tested."
Rep. Mark Green, a Tennessee Republican who served as an Army physician in Iraq and Afghanistan, suggested another option for supporting troops — religious faith. Citing statistics that people with strong spiritual beliefs have lower rates of suicide, Green said military chaplains and religious troops should be supported by commands.
"Not every soldier is religious, but those who are should have access to services. It seems there is an assault on religion within the military. … The associations that represent chaplains have all expressed to us that their members can’t address the spiritual needs of warriors," he said.
A couple of subcommittee members raised the issue of medical marijuana. Rep. Harley Rouda, D-California, asked about research and its potential role as a therapy for veterans; Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Arizona, staunchly opposed its use.
It would not be an option, regardless, for active-duty troops, who are prohibited from taking drugs other than prescribed medications.
A VA official said marijuana and cannabis must be thoroughly researched before they could be recommended for mental health use.
"This is a country that thought it could control fentanyl, and we ended up with one of the greatest health crises. This is the country that thought it could control alcohol, and it remains a public health debacle. Cannabis in the 1960s was 2% psychotropic. Cannabis today at 22-23% is not the same. We need the opportunity to do substantial research … before we could recommend anything," said Dr. Richard Stone, executive in charge of the Veterans Health Administration.
A few family members of military personnel who died by suicide attended the hearing and expressed gratitude that the subcommittee held it. They said, however, that they were disappointed by what they saw as an emphasis on veterans and a lack of rigorous questioning of the two Pentagon representatives on the continued high rates of active-duty suicide.
Patrick Caserta’s son Brandon Caserta, a Navy sailor who died by suicide June 25 in Norfolk, Virginia, said the Pentagon representatives failed to discuss contributing factors to active-duty personnel deaths, such as harassment and leadership failures.
"They talk about trauma, exposure to war and mental health, but they don’t talk about harassment, bullying. They just don’t want to say that it happens and they are at fault," Caserta said.
Military personnel who need help can call the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255. Suicidal troops and veterans can call the Military Crisis Line at 800-273-8255, press 1, for assistance, or text 838255.
Associated Press: One by one, D-Day memories fade as war’s witnesses die
By: Angela Charlton, The Associated Press | 10 hours ago
PARIS — One more funeral, one less witness to the world’s worst war.
Bernard Dargols lived almost long enough to join the celebrations next month marking 75 years since D-Day, 75 years since he waded onto Omaha Beach as an American soldier to help liberate France from the Nazis who persecuted his Jewish family.
Just shy of his 99th birthday, Dargols died last week. To the strains of his beloved American jazz, he was laid to rest Thursday at France’s most famous cemetery, Pere Lachaise.
An ever-smaller number of veterans will stand on Normandy’s shores on June 6 for D-Day’s 75th anniversary. Many will salute fallen comrades from their wheelchairs. As each year passes, more firsthand witnesses to history are gone.
Four weeks from now, U.S. President Donald Trump and other world leaders will pay homage to the more than 2 million American, British, Canadian and other Allied forces involved in the D-Day operation on June 6, 1944, and the ensuing battle for Normandy that helped pave the way for Hitler’s defeat.
Dargols outlived most of them, and knew the importance of sustaining their memory.
"I’m convinced that we have to talk about the war to children, so that they understand how much they need to preserve the peace," he wrote in a 2012 memoir.
Until the end, Dargols battled complacency, intolerance and Holocaust deniers who claim that D-Day was "just a movie."
In recent years, "seeing any type of violence, of anti-Semitism and racism, either in France in Europe or in the U.S." really upset him, granddaughter Caroline Jolivet said.
Normandy schoolteachers, veterans’ families and military memorials are laboring against time to record survivors’ stories for posterity.
In history’s biggest amphibious invasion, on that fateful June 6, some 160,000 Allied forces came ashore to launch Operation Overlord to wrest Normandy from Nazi control. More than 4,000 Allied forces were killed on that day alone. Nearly half a million people were killed on both sides by the time the Allies liberated Paris in August 1944.
It’s unclear exactly how many D-Day veterans are alive today. The survivors are now in their 90s or 100s.
Of the 73,000 Americans who took part, just 30 are currently scheduled to come to France for this year’s anniversary. The U.S. Veterans Administration estimates that about 348 American World War II veterans die every day. All but three of the 177 French forces involved in D-Day are gone.
Every day, the names of the departed accumulate, tweeted by veterans groups, published in local newspapers.
Dargols wanted to be in Normandy this year, it meant a lot to him.
His story is both unusual and emblematic: Born in France, he left Paris in 1938 for New York to learn his father’s sewing machine trade. He watched from afar, sickened, as the Nazis occupied his homeland. His Jewish relatives were sent to camps, or fled in fear.
Determined to fight back but skeptical of French General Charles de Gaulle’s resistance force, he joined the U.S. Army instead.
With the 2nd Infantry Division, Dargols sailed from Britain on June 5 and only made it to Normandy on June 8, after three interminable days on choppy seas. The road he took inland from Omaha Beach now carries his name.
The battle to wrest Normandy from the Nazis took longer than the Allies thought, but for Dargols the prize at the end was invaluable. When he made it to Paris, he went to his childhood apartment and found his mother — unexpectedly alive.
For four decades, he didn’t talk much about the war. But as more and more survivors died, and at his granddaughter’s urging, he realized the importance of speaking out and sharing his stories with schools and journalists.
Friends and family remembered him Thursday as shy but courageous, a lover of oysters and pastrami sandwiches, known for his mischievous smile.
Jolivet, his granddaughter, told the AP of his yearning for leaders who "bring people together, instead of divide them."
Dargols would have had a clear message for the D-Day anniversary, she said: "Never take democracy for granted. Dictatorship is always a bad solution. Violence is always a bad solution. Keep democracy alive. Fight for democracy, for freedom, for peace."
The cultural director at Normandy’s World War II memorial in Caen, Isabelle Bournier, frets about this fading message, as she watches schoolchildren cycle through her museum every day.
"The parents and grandparents of 13-year-olds today didn’t experience the war, so the family stories, the family history — where helmets are brought out, where we spoke about what it was like — has been lost," she said.
"They don’t know the names of the landing beaches," she says. "Pupils spend less time studying World War II than they did 30 years ago, and so the role of D-Day has been reduced."
Dargols himself worried about the day when all the veterans will be gone.
"It could start again," he wrote in his memoir. "We must be vigilant, at all times."