PUNXSUTAWNEY — Walter Hurd and Bob Lott returned from Normandy, France, where they took part in the observance of the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day Invasion, to a crowd of friends and family on Flag Day, June 14, at the Punxsutawney VFW Post 2076.
Hurd addressed the crowd and thanked Lott for guiding him through the journey.
“I enjoyed the company of everyone I met when I was over there,” Hurd said.
Lott said through all his travels, this trip was unique, as it was about honoring the veterans who took part in D-Day.
“I’ve done a lot of traveling, approaching almost 50 countries, and this was the most amazing trip I have ever taken. It wasn’t about seeing anything. It was about the people. Thousands of people were lining the streets to see the veterans during the parade. It was amazing to see that number of people to see the parade,” Lott said.
He said after the parade, the people of Normandy gathered to shake the hands of the veterans.
“Wally probably shook hands with more than 100 people. They all crowded together to touch their heroes,” Lott said.
Lott said it would be hard for anyone in America to imagine the depth of gratitude the French people feel toward the WWII veterans.
“We in this country cannot know what the people of Normandy have in their hearts because we haven’t experienced losing our freedom the way that they did and then got it back because of American, British, Canadian and Australian WWII veterans. We have no way in our country of relating to that. The people in our country don’t have the same appreciation for our veterans as they do. The kids over there grow up learning what the America veterans did for them,” Lott said.
He said the response from the French people was almost overwhelming.
“You really can’t imagine what it’s like to be a rock star. These people act like this because they love them. They love the veterans,” Lott said.
Lott thanked Frank Steck, a veteran who was introduced to Hurd through Hurd’s niece, for being instrumental in nominating Hurd for the French Legion of Honor award and for getting them in contact with the Veterans Go Back to Normandy organization.
“Without Frank’s involvement, there wouldn’t be a French Legion of Honor award and we would have went with a travel agency,” Lott said.
Steck echoed Lott’s sentiments and said it was a privilege to honor the veterans with the French.
“The French people treat these people like royalty and deservedly so. For us, it really was an honor to be there,” Steck said.
Hurd said one of the most interesting parts of the trip came on D-Day when he was able to get the attention of U.S. President Donald Trump, who acknowledged and pointed at him.
“He pointed at me and I don’t remember whether I hugged his wife or not. I was gonna wear my Trump hat when I saw him but I didn’t get the chance,” Hurd said.
Hurd spoke of his time in the war and related some of his more somber experiences.
“During the war, I wrote my mother letters so she knew that I was alive and didn’t get shot. The first guy I saw dead, he looked like he wasn’t even old enough to be on the front lines. He was laying out there in the open. There wasn’t even any blood around him. I remember seeing the people in the German concentration camps. They were the worst treated people I have ever seen. We were the first ones up there. We liberated some of those camps. I didn’t know whether those people were living or dead, especially the younger ones,” Hurd said.