Brave quartet: Four D-Day veterans honored as 70th anniversary approaches

William Rourke, special representative of the United Kingdom, speaks about growing up in London during World WarÊII.
William Rourke, special representative of the United Kingdom, speaks about growing up in London during World WarÊII.

Four surviving members of the D-Day landing in Normandy were honored Thursday morning in a commemoration at Fess Parker’s Doubletree Resort.

Titled “The Boys Who Stormed Normandy,” the bruncheon honored Santa Barbarans Art Petersen, Bob Forties, Frank Johnson and Sal Perez in an event staged by the Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation and the Channel City Club.

Saluting the flag during Thursday's commemoration of the 70th anniversary of D-Day are, from left, master of ceremonies Air Force Col. Phil Conran and four soldiers who stormed Normandy Ñ Sal Perez, Bob Forties, Art Petersen and Frank Johnson
Saluting the flag during Thursday’s commemoration of the 70th anniversary of D-Day are, from left, master of ceremonies Air Force Col. Phil Conran and four soldiers who stormed Normandy Ñ Sal Perez, Bob Forties, Art Petersen and Frank Johnson
Santa Barbara's surviving veterans of D-Day are, from left, Sal Perez, Bob Forties, Art Petersen and Frank Johnson.
Santa Barbara’s surviving veterans of D-Day are, from left, Sal Perez, Bob Forties, Art Petersen and Frank Johnson.
France Alex Cruau thanks the veterans for their World WarÊII service that aided in the liberation of France.
France Alex Cruau thanks the veterans for their World WarÊII service that aided in the liberation of France.

June 6 marks the 70th anniversary of the Allies’ largest and most daring military operation of World War II, and the battle that turned the war and led to the defeat of Hitler and the Axis powers.

Many other veterans were in attendance, along with their families. Near the end, when emcee Air Force Col. Phil Conran asked for a show of hands those who had been to visit the military cemetery at Normandy, more than half of the hundreds in attendance raised their hand.

The events of June 6, 1944, represent the “greatest accomplishment of the Allies in World War II,” said John Blankenship, founding director of the Claeyssens Veterans Foundation.

“And we must never allow with the passing of time that we forget what these men, and the men before them did and the men who couldn’t be here. And as President Coolidge said, ‘A nation that forgets its defenders will itself soon be forgotten.'”

Col. Conran asked for all the other veterans in the room to stand up and be recognized, and about a dozen revealed themselves in attendance to rousing applause.

Then followed a PowerPoint presentation about what Winston Churchill said was “the most complex, dynamic military exercise in the history of the world,” Col. Conran said.

The numbers bore that out. On that overcast morning on June 6, the Allies sent between 5,000 and 6,000 ships containing more than 156,000 men to attack a German stronghold along 50 miles of beach.

Col. Conran screened a video led by real footage of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, then followed by footage from the films “The Longest Day” and “Band of Brothers” to give just a little indication of the historic events.

Col. Conran then introduced all four of Santa Barbara’s surviving D-Day veterans.

Sal Perez joined the Army in 1940, survived Normandy and then parachuted into Holland as a member of the 82nd Airborne Division. He also served in both Korea and Vietnam and retired in 1968. He said his lack of a Purple Heart was attributed to “being so handsome.”

Bob Forties joined in 1941 and followed up his service at Normandy with a jump over Holland as part of the 82nd Airborne. He returned not just with a Silver Star and five Purple Hearts, but with a British bride, who has been with him for 70 years.

The third paratrooper in the group is Art Petersen, who joined in 1943 and fought both in Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge as a member of the 101st Airborne Division. When he left in 1945 he had two Purple Hearts to his name.

Lastly, Frank Johnson – the youngest of the four, “the kid” of the group – reportedly “got shnookered” by his Army recruiter and never knew where he was going until he was landing on Omaha Beach in Normandy as a member of the

7th Armored Division. He also served at the Battle of the Bulge and was discharged in 1945 with two Purple Hearts.

The quartet of vets on stage did not speak, but let Col. Conran speak for them, as well as delegates from the local consulates of America’s allies.

Rudi Veestraeten of the Belgian consulate spoke of German occupation and the “enormous wave” when the Allied forces swept through the country, liberating it.

In a contemporary aside, Mr. Veestraeten said that Russia’s actions in Ukraine should not really be compared to the beginning of World War II, though the events are on many people’s minds.

James Villenueve from the Canadian consulate spoke about his country’s role in the Normandy invasion, and how Canadians think of their actions at Juno Beach on D-Day just like Americans think about Omaha Beach.

Axel Cruau of the French consulate spoke about the “Greatest generation” of America and added, quoting Pierre Claeyssens, “To be killed in a war is not the worst that can happen, to be lost is not the worst. It is to be forgotten.” That will not happen, he said.

William Rourke, special representative from the United Kingdom, spoke of growing up as a child during World War II, the rationing, and ended by doing a quite good impersonation of Winston Churchill and his speech to the House of Commons after the successful landing at Normandy, which ended with a note about the Allied front, working together “all in good heart and all in good friendship.”

After the commemoration, the four honored vets remained on stage for a steady stream of well-wishers wanting to thank them for their service.

(Visited 82 times, 1 visits today)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.