D-Day veteran: "We are the last reporters" of historic invasion

NORMANDY, France -- Every anniversary of the D-Day landings is commemorated and the ones every ten years are always special. But this one -- the 70th anniversary -- is particularly poignant because the surviving veterans being honored for what they did here are either approaching -- or in -- their 90s.

The first time these veterans set off to invade the beaches of Normandy there was a different sense of urgency.

Then the imperative was to defeat Hitler. The Normandy landings, with their boldness, their sacrifice and their ultimate success, began the final assault against Nazism.

But the clock is now ticking on the great World War II generation. The 70th anniversary may well be the last great commemoration attended by many of those who were there.

John Raaen Jr. is 92 years old now and has been back to the beaches a half dozen times.

He was a 22-year-old captain on what he calls his first visit on June 6,1944, when he led a company of rangers onto Omaha Beach.

And he says it is important that people like him tell stories and reflect on what happened.

"I think it is more important because we are the last reporters, true reporters, on it," Raaen said. "The rest are historians and historians do not get it right, I can guarantee you."

More and more, the story of the Allied campaign in Europe is written in stone. It gets retold at times like this, but it has become more history, less of a living memory, a vague echo of what seems like another time.

"We do represent that particular era that remembers precisely--some of us don't remember that well but remember pretty well what happened and can relay the thoughts, the values, the importance of what we did," Raaen said.

The veterans and their families have arrived in Normandy, the last witnesses to the history they made.

  • Mark Phillips

    Mark Phillips returned to the CBS News London bureau as a correspondent in 1993. He has covered many major stories since then, including the war in the Balkans, the death of Princess Diana and the weapons inspection conflicts in Iraq.

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