“We didn’t have to volunteer for this, but we all did,” one World War II veteran told a group of spectators on the USS Cassin Young. “We were a unit, and we had work to do.”
Bill Needham and 19 other veterans recalled the events of June 6, 1944, in an intimate ceremony Friday afternoon under bright skies at the Charlestown Navy Yard. It was one of many celebrations marking the 70th anniversary of D-day around the state.
A Frenchman, whose family owned a home in Normandy during World War II, provided a different perspective on the Allied invasion that dislodged German from their coastal strongholds.
“It is very emotional to see the very people who freed us,” Christian Frere said, his voice catching.
Frere, 74, said his appearance on the ship Friday was purely coincidental. He splits his time between Paris and Los Angeles, but was in Boston to visit his daughter.
He brought with him a photograph of himself and a group of his young relatives, all perched on a horse on his family’s property. Without the bravery of veterans like those gathered on the Cassin Young, he said, his childhood haunts would not have been liberated.
“After Normandy, the town looked like a stage from which all of the actors are gone,” he recalled. “But it came back.”
Daniel Coyle, 90, who was a chief gun captain for the Navy during the invasion, said it is “not too often” he gets thanked for his participation in the crucial battle.
“It’s always surprising,” said Coyle, a Mansfield resident. “It’s good, but it’s surprising.”
Coyle said that he was happy to commemorate the day, but each conversation brought back a flood of memories.
“It’s like many photographs of my past,” he said. “I hope to God something like that never happens again.”
Also Friday, Old Ironsides took a cruise around Boston Harbor.
The USS Constitution departed at 9:30 a.m. and sailed to Fort Independence on Castle Island in South Boston with 400 guests aboard. There, a 21-gun salute was fired in remembrance of the 72d anniversary of the Battle of Midway as well as D-day, according to a statement from the USS Constitution public affairs office.
Sailors conducted a 17-gun salute at the US Coast Guard base in Boston, before returning to the pier at Charlestown Navy Yard at 1:30 p.m.
The Battle of Midway was a turning point of World War II in the Pacific theater. The US Navy lost one aircraft carrier, but sank four Japanese carriers.
In other commemorations, 10 World War II veterans from Massachusetts and Rhode Island were honored with the French Legion of Honor during a ceremony at the Museum of World War II in Natick Friday morning. It is France’s highest civil and military distinction, according to a statement from the consul general of France in Boston.
An additional six veterans from Massachusetts and New Hampshire received the same honor at a 12:30 p.m. ceremony at the Hyannis Yacht Club.
“All 16 men were selected to be awarded the Legion of Honor for the their bravery and the courage and heroism they showed in battle,” the consul general said in a statement. “They all put their life at risk to liberate France from oppression.”