COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, France (AP) — A vicious foe is now a trusted friend. The epitome of evil is now a cornerstone of postwar Europe. On the 75th anniversary of D-Day, Germans are now welcomed instead of shunned and despised like the Nazis who came before them.
Now, a soldier wearing the German flag on his shoulder can stroll under a star-spangled flag at the Normandy American Cemetery, symbolizing the mending that’s occurred since allied nations fought their way onto French beaches held by Adolf Hitler’s forces on June 6, 1944.
“This is the most important thing, for which we are forever grateful: That we can be here wearing our German uniforms and that we meet friendly people,” said Daniel Pommer, a member of a German mechanized infantry battalion that visited the U.S. military cemetery and memorial two days before the anniversary.
Standing amid 9,388 pristine white crosses, most of them for Americans killed during the D-Day landings and the fighting that followed, Pommer said the fallen buried at Normandy American Cemetery “freed Europe, and that includes Germany.”
U.S. Army veteran Pete Shaw, 94, who served with the 283rd Field Artillery Battalion during World War II, bore witness under the same American flag half an hour earlier, teary eyed as he thought of friends he lost fighting ferociously against the Germans during the Normandy offensive.
Asked whether he hated German troops during the war, Shaw answered “Oh, yes! Oh yes!”
More than 10 months after D-Day, Shaw’s Army division participated in liberating Dachau, the Nazi concentration camp outside Munich where tens of thousands of prisoners died.
His eyes widen as he describes pits and carts “full of bodies – Jews, Germans, prisoners of war or anybody that didn’t agree with Hitler.”
“How could one man do that,” Shaw said of Hitler. As for the German troops he hated, the veteran now says “half of them they didn’t know what was going on.”
The occupying forces in France were referred to as “les Boches” (the Germans) for long after the war. In recent years, there has been an effort to make a distinction between the Nazis and their supporters, and other Germans.
In the same way, Germany now is considered the cornerstone of a stable continent and together with France, the driving force of the European Union.
“We can be glad that at the end of this terrible World War II that was started by Germany, we have an order that produced the European Union, that secures our peace, that secures our stability,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said this week.