Charles Norman Shay, the Native American veteran who handled the wounded on the D-Day seashores | EUROtoday

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From our particular correspondent in Caen – Originally from an Indian reservation in Maine, within the United States, Charles Norman Shay was one of many 500 Native Americans who landed on the seashores of Normandy on June 6, 1944. He was barely 20 years outdated. Eighty years later, this former army nurse settled down completely in Calvados, a number of kilometers from the place the place “the most significant day of his life” happened. Encounter.

“The only feat I have accomplished in my life is to have never been injured or killed. I only did my job,” Charles Norman Shay tirelessly repeats to his guests. Sitting in his massive purple leather-based armchair, his grey hair impeccably styled, his finely trimmed mustache and his fitted tie, the person who will rejoice his a centesimal birthday on June 27 contemplates the vestiges of his lengthy life hanging on the partitions. Here, army medals and decorations, there, outdated images of household, buddies or regimental companions. A bit of additional on, a Native American headdress, and, positioned in all places, small statuettes of turtles – a logo widespread to many Native American tribes, which signifies longevity and knowledge.

Charles Norman Shay rests in his library, decorated with his many military decorations, photos of family and friends, May 19, 2024.
Charles Norman Shay rests in his library, adorned along with his many army decorations, images of household and buddies, May 19, 2024. © Cyrielle Cabot, France 24

Since 2017, this Native American from a reserve in Maine, within the United States, has determined to calm down completely close to Caen, in Calvados, solely about twenty kilometers from the seashore the place he lived, he says. , “the most significant day of his life”, the Landing of June 6, 1944.

“I returned for the first time to the D-Day beaches in 2007 and after that, I got into the habit of being present every year for the commemorations,” he remembers, with a smile. It was on this event, greater than 10 years in the past, that Marie-Pascale Legrand opened the door to her opulent Normandy constructing for him for the primary time, then yearly. At 62 years outdated, this native of the area has been welcoming American veterans for greater than 30 years throughout these main annual ceremonies.

“After years of visits, discussions, correspondence by mail and telephone, we became great friends,” she says. “So when I came to visit him a few years ago and saw his health declining and no one could help him, I decided to offer to move here so that he could can heal.”

“He accepted and I made part of my house available to him – in particular this library, which became his cocoon,” she continues. “Today he is part of the family.”

“When Marie-Pascale suggested that I come and live in Normandy, I was very alone. My wife had died a few years before. Today, I am very happy here,” he adds, smiling at his benefactress.

“I was told ‘you’re going to become a nurse’”

However, for a long time, coming to Normandy was “painful”, admits the veteran. “Many of my buddies died on these seashores. I'm nonetheless right here but it surely nonetheless pains me to consider all those that perished.”

Charles Norman Shay was born on June 27, 1924 into the Penobscot Native American tribe. In 1943, in the middle of the Second World War, this son of an activist for the rights of his people, was, like his three brothers, called up for his military service – “an obligation for younger Native Americans”, he explains. While his brothers were sent to the air force and the navy respectively, he became a military nurse.

“I was sent for military training and told ‘you’re going to become a nurse’. It wasn’t my choice, but the mission entrusted to me,” he sums up, shrugging shoulders. “At first, I used to be despatched to the Indianapolis General Hospital. At that point, I assumed that it was not dangerous, that I used to be going to spend my army service in a hospital. But the destiny in determined in any other case.”

A few months later, Charles Norman Shay, 19, boarded the legendary Queen Elisabeth from New York. It crosses the Atlantic Ocean and reaches the small port of Bridport, in England. There he was assigned to the First Infantry Division, the Big Red One, as a combat medic – “16e infantry regiment, second battalion, firm F”, he recites, as if by reflex. Then begins his preparation for “a significant particular operation” of the allied forces – the long run Landing.

Charles Norman Shay (top right) and his friend Édouard Morozewicz (center) during their military training in England, 1944.
Charles Norman Shay (prime proper) and his good friend Édouard Morozewicz (heart) throughout their army coaching in England, 1944. ©DR

“I don’t know how many men I’ve helped.”

Today, 80 years separate him from the younger man he was on the morning of June 6, 1944. And when recounting “his longest day”, the veteran doesn’t disguise his “fatigue” from diving again into his recollections a lot occasions recounted throughout his life. “I just did what I was trained to do, and I was lucky to survive,” he repeats.

“We received the call very early in the morning, around 1 a.m. or 2 a.m., to prepare to leave the ship and join landing craft,” he says, mechanically. “We arrived on Omaha Beach around 5 a.m. The sea was pretty calm.”

“But when we jumped into the water, a lot of soldiers were very loaded with machine guns, mortars and ammunition. I saw a lot of them drown. They couldn't swim and there was no way to save them,” he continues. He, with his lighter medic equipment, manages to make his way to the beach.

He then sets about his mission: to provide care. “I don't know what number of hours I spent on the seashore. There had been so many injured, so many individuals that wanted to be taken care of. I don't know what number of I helped.”

Among the anonymous soldiers, Charles Norman Shay, however, comes across one of his friends, Édouard Morozewicz, also a 19-year-old American nurse, severely injured. “We met in England and trained together. We became close,” he says, with a lump in his throat. “When I discovered him, he was injured within the abdomen, with heavy inner bleeding. I knew I couldn't deal with him. The wound was too huge and I didn't have the mandatory medical instruments. I’m stayed with him and he died in my arms.”

At the end of the afternoon, Charles Norman Shay, out of breath, decided to go back inland. “But I fell down from exhaustion and fell asleep at the top of the beach. When I woke up, I was surrounded by dead Germans and Americans,” he finishes. He finally manages to resume his journey, to reach the commune that his unit was supposed to join and finds other survivors of his regiment. It is on this beach, nicknamed today “Bloody Ohama”, that the demise toll from the Landing was heaviest – out of 34,250 males who landed, 1,000 died and a couple of,000 injured or lacking.

But the combating doesn't cease. In the times that adopted, the soldier continued to deal with the wounded on the battlefield of Normandy. He then accompanied American troops to Germany the place he was taken prisoner in March 1945. He was launched three weeks later. It was then the top of the Second World War.

Charles Norman Shay in 1944.
Charles Norman Shay, in 1944. ©DR

Bringing Native American reminiscence to life

At the top of the battle, Charles Norman Shay returned briefly to the United States. But confronted with difficulties discovering a job, he determined to re-enlist within the armed forces. In complete, he spent twenty years in army uniform. He fought in the course of the Korean War (1950-1953), nonetheless as a nurse, then took half in varied nuclear assessments within the Pacific. “Without ever being hurt,” he reiterates once more proudly.

The veteran lastly left the military in 1965 and settled in Vienna, Austria, the place he grew to become an archivist for the United Nations. “It’s also where I met my wife Lily,” he exclaims. “These Austrian years were particularly beautiful and festive,” he insists, evoking the “holidays in the mountains”, the “city parties”, “his country house” and “his little job as a limousine driver for rounding off the ends of the month. “Sometimes driving celebrities like Woody Allen,” Marie-Pascale Legrand laughs.

During “those sweet Austrian years”, the veteran says he “hidden from his memory” his hours spent on Omaha Beach. It was solely on the age of 82, inspired by buddies, that he determined to return to Normandy.

For the veteran, it’s a turning level. In the years that adopted, he grew to become one of many actors within the reminiscence of the Landing. Always helped by Marie-Pascale, he tells his story to dozens and dozens of schoolchildren, organizes meals for veterans, and attends every of the American commemorations. But above all, his mission is to pay tribute to the 44,000 Native Americans who participated within the Second World War and to those that, like him, landed alongside him on Omaha Beach.

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He thus initiated the primary ceremonies of their honor, which he presided over, notably announcing conventional Native American prayers. “In the first years, I was the only Native American present in the commemorations. Over the years, many joined us. We managed to highlight their role in this war. It was important that we not forget them” , he congratulates himself. In June 2017, as a logo of this work of reminiscence, a stele within the identify of Charles Norman Shay was inaugurated close to Omaha Beach. Shaped like a turtle and sculpted by Charles' nephew Norman Shay, it pays tribute to all Native American troopers.

But if he needs to attend these highlights, he admits at this time that he needs to “put that behind him”. To proceed to maintain the reminiscence of Native Americans alive, he determined, two years in the past, to move the baton to a different Native American, Julia Kelly, a veteran of the Gulf War. For her half, Marie-Pascale Legrand has simply revealed the biography of her good friend. One approach to make sure that his story will proceed to be handed on.