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Events set locally for 70th anniversary of D-Day

Operation Overlord 2014 pulls out today for Bedford, Va., for a three-day event to honor 30 local surviving D-Day members on the 70th Anniversary Commemoration of D-Day.

It's the biggest national event marking the pivotal battle of World War II. Local people who want to honor veterans may observe the 70th anniversary in two meaningful ways — at a ceremony at the Historic Courthouse at 10 a.m. Friday and during a welcome home celebration for the D-Day veterans traveling to Virginia at 5 p.m. Saturday in Asheville.

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When it came time to mark the seventh decennial of the invasion that turned the tide of the war in Europe, it was unsurprising that Jeff Miller and the Hendersonville and Asheville Rotary Club members would jump on board.
Miller cofounded the HonorAir organization that flies World War II veterans to Washington to see the National World War II Memorial in 2005 and recruited Rotary Clubs to help identify and invite WWII veterans on the free trips.
JeffMiller 2Jeff Miller"About a year ago, Jeff had another dream," Hendersonville Rotarian Chris Burns wrote. "This time it was to take all surviving Normandy Invasion Campaign (D-Day) veterans to their national memorial for the 70th Anniversary Commemoration of D-Day. Through the partnership of the Asheville and Hendersonville Rotary clubs, a team was pulled together to turn this idea into a reality."
The commemoration is at Bedford, Va., which was chosen as the site of the National D-Day Memorial because "19 Bedford Boys" perished on the beaches of Normandy during the bloody invasion.
Made up of Rotary Club members, paramedics and doctors, the Western North Carolina support team has planned for months. Each veteran will also have a spouse or other family member along, in addition to a volunteer guardian. It's all free for the veteran and family member — the bus trip, meals, two overnight stays at a Holiday Inn in Lynchburg.
pb-120606-dday-anniv-nj-03.photoblog900A D-Day veteran walks among the crosses at Normandy American Cemetery."We'll pull out at 9:30 a.m. Thursday," Burns said. "We're making a couple of stops. We're stopping in Marion. We're picking up a couple of veterans in Hickory, and we've got a police escort the whole way — police and sheriff's deputies — so that should be pretty neat."
It's the ride on those buses, Miller said, that means the most to him.

"The big thing is obviously the events that go on the day of the 70th anniversary there at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford," he said. "But when you think about being on the bus with people involved — we're not just talking first wave and second wave, we're talking about air, land and sea, all the different elements of probably the most important invasion that started the liberation of Europe."
The highlight of any HonorAir trip, he said, is when the veterans start to lower their guard and share their stories with their fellow GIs.
"You just get to sit there and listen," Miller said. "I don't know that it gets much better than that. That and watching someone maybe heal a bit from a lot of hell they went through in the war. You're sitting right there with the guys that were in the middle of it. It's not something you can go out and buy off of Amazon. These opportunities are trickling down fast."


Henderson County D-Day Commemoration
10 a.m. Friday
Historic Courthouse
Opening statement by County Manager Steve Wyatt, presentation of the colors by the Henderson County Honor Guard, Pledge of Allegiance led by Henderson County Veterans Services Officer Mike Murdock, the National Anthem performed by Skip Fendley, a broadcast of Gen. Eisenhower's D-Day speech, "Amazing Grace" performed by Dr. Robert Kiskaddon on the bagpipes and a closing prayer by Rabbi Phil Cohen of the Agudas Israel Synagogue. The commemoration will conclude with the tolling of the Historic Courthouse bell.



70th Anniversary Commemoration of D-Day
• About 30 D-Day veterans and about 110 family members, volunteers and support personnel from Western North Carolina will board buses on Thursday morning.
• The event includes the commemoration at 11 a.m. Friday, a flyover by a P-51 and C-47 and parachute jump by the Golden Knights, a Reunion Tent, a D-Day parade with WWII era trucks and Jeeps, a Tommy Dorsey Orchestra concert.
• A Heroes Welcome Home celebration will be at 5 p.m. Saturday at the Buncombe County Register of Deeds parking lot, 35 Woodfin Street, Asheville (parking available at Asheville First Baptist Church). Bring flags, signs and cheers.