Allies Quietly Celebrate 75th Anniversary of Victory in Europe
Friday marks the 75th anniversary of the Allied forces' victory in Europe, and despite the COVID-19 pandemic, veterans and leaders around the world set aside time to mark the historic occasion and pay respect to the soldiers, sailors and airmen who defeated Nazi Germany.
At the World War II Memorial in Washington, eight veterans joined U.S. President Donald Trump in a wreath-laying ceremony to commemorate the fallen. The group included four men - Steven Melnikoff, 100; Guy Whidden, 97; Harold Angle, 97; and Frank Devita, 96 - who participated in the D-Day invasion, the largest amphibious assault operation in history and the turning point of the war in Europe.
"These heroes are living testaments to the American spirit of perseverance and victory, especially in the midst of dark days," said White House spokesman Judd Deere.
Most of the planned public celebrations for this year's VE day have been canceled or scaled back due to the coronavirus pandemic. The venues that might normally see large events on May 8 - London's Trafalgar Square, Paris' Champs-Élysées, the National Mall in Washington - were substantially empty. Instead, the day was celebrated largely in private. In the UK, citizens listened to the Queen's commemorative speech from their homes, and they were asked to observe a two-minute moment of silence.
Plans for parades and ceremonies were suspended due to social distancing requirements, but the unique vulnerability of the guests of honor provided an additional incentive. Surviving veterans of the war are now in their 90s, well within the most vulnerable age range for COVID-19. The virus has already claimed over 100,000 lives across Europe and more than 70,000 in the U.S., with mortality concentrated in older generations.
Many observers used the occasion to compare the global challenges faced by the "Greatest Generation" to the international challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic today. "W survived [WWII] and eventually triumphed thanks to the heroism of countless ordinary people . . . . We are now engaged in a new struggle against the coronavirus which demands the same spirit or national endeavour," said UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson - who has himself recently recovered from COVID-19 - in a televised address.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill's grandson, Sir Nicholas Soames, suggested that the coronavirus pandemic is bringing UK society together to fight a common enemy - much like the rise of the Axis did some eight decades ago.
"I don't think that Britain and France have been through anything so terrible as this inflicted by a medical illness, which has drawn generations together, families together . . . it is an added poignancy in this 75th anniversary year that we should find ourselves drawn together by a terrible threat," said Sir Soames in an interview Friday.
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.