BEDFORD COUNTY, Va. (WDBJ7)-- Thousands of people filed into the National D-Day Memorial Thursday not just to celebrate history, but to witness history being made.
It was 75 years ago that more than 4,000 men were killed on the beaches of Normandy during Operation Overlord. The crowds gathered to give a “final salute,” to the World War II veterans still alive.
Within the crowd of more than 10,000 people, one 95-year-old man was on a mission to say more than, “thank you for your service.” He was there to say, “thank you for my life.”
"D-Day was the most important day of my life,” said Bennett Harte, who was born in Germany. “We were absolutely overwhelmed because life was given back to us."
In 1934, after Hitler rose to power in Germany, Harte’s father read “Mein Kampf,” and decided the Jewish family needed to move. The family of four relocated to Paris and made a new life for themselves.
When Harte was in high school, fear struck the family again. In 1941 Germany had occupied France and the family had to go into hiding in the French Alps.
"We were meant to die because Hitler said Jews in Europe must die,” said Harte. “D-Day gave us life back."
The Hartes were in hiding for several years before D-Day. Harte said that he and his brother had two close calls with German soldiers. They had fake papers and lived in constant fear.
"We didn't know if we were going to be free the next day or not,” said Harte. “It was very scary.”
Everyday his family lived in hiding, it was Harte’s job to listen to the radio at 6 a.m. for any signs of relief. On June 6th, 1944 when he heard an announcer describe men parachuting onto the beaches in Normandy, he knew things had changed. He immediately woke up his family.
"I ran to their bedrooms where they were sleeping and then told them,” said Harte. “From then on we listened to the radio all day long and all night long."
Harte says every year, for the last 75 years, he thinks of those 4,000 men on June 6th. He also thinks of them when he looks at his wife and the family they created- all possible because of brave men who sacrificed everything.
"I am eternally grateful and I am sad when I think about what happened to them,” said Harte. “They saved our lives."
In 1955 Harte moved to America. He practiced dentistry in the Washington DC area for most of his life. Thursday marked his second visit to the memorial. He said he was in awe of the beauty. Harte’s entire family attended the ceremony to honor a point in time that they will never forget.