May 29, 4pm. American Airlines Gate D23 at DFW Airport.
D-Day veteran Charlie Alford, who was an Army forward observer during the Normandy invasion, Battle of the Bulge and a concentration camp liberator, takes the microphone when asked to address the crowd that has gathered at our gate as we await our departure to France.
Doug Dunbar (@cbs11doug) May 29, 2014
His first words, amid a breaking voice and choking back tears were hard to understand. What was not, was the impact this very moment had on him.
In front of Charlie, stood dozens of people he has never met, seen or spoken to. All eyes trained on him. Many of the faces were passengers simply connecting to other flights. Stopped by the gathering crowd at our gate. Stopped by the display of American pride, with flags, banners and decorated war heroes waiting on their Return to D-Day.
As I watched Charlie I thought of how discomforting that must be for him. Total strangers, staring at you. Waiting for your next words. Pressure.
But after those first few words and a sniffle, ever the soldier, Charlie explained to the crowd of strangers, his service to this country and the pride he takes in knowing he served proudly.
Doug Dunbar (@cbs11doug) May 29, 2014
He laughs a bit uncomfortably at all the attention he is commanding. But in this moment I saw a 90-year-old plus man falling right back into the brilliantly simple battle plan that unfolded in Normandy and points east, in 1944. Forge ahead. Don’t stop. Keep moving.
Charlie Alford was doing what he and the rest of the gathered D-Day heroes were trained to do during the epic battle that claimed so many of their brothers 70-years ago. He kept moving forward. And just like he and his band of brothers did with the people of France in 1944, he won hearts and minds of everyone gathered at American Airlines gate D23. Only this time, all it took was a smile and his sincere words.
I write this as we cruise at 33,000 feet, headed into the night sky that lay ahead.
We’re eight hours from landing in France. We’re a lifetime from the war we’re going to remember. But looking at their faces as I walk the aisle of the airplane, I know it will all soon come back. I know that most of these men will soon talk about things they’ve chosen to forget. I know they will feel emotions that will take even the toughest man by surprise. I know they will be honored during this journey – in a way that will bring many of them to tears.
After nearly ten hour flight, and an additional seven hours on a bus with few stops, our heroes have finally made it to Bastogne.
Some of our men were in this area and witnessed the bloody battle that occurred on the streets just outside our hotel, which incidentally was here in 1944.
Bastogne was a crossroad in the legendary ‘Battle of the Bulge’ where German and American troops fought for seven days in December of 1944, for control of this town. It was imperative to the success of U.S. forces beating back Hitler’s last stand.
Enroute Belgium w our D Day heroes. Quiet bus as they remember the fighting in these now beautiful fields of France. http://t.co/hGX0iiLzwE—
Doug Dunbar (@cbs11doug) May 30, 2014
Tomorrow, the road back truly begins. Battle grounds and General Patton’s grave. The fields and forests that were once home to hidden German troops.
Today, they are home to flowing green grass, and a grateful country.
For now, a well deserved rest for the men who never rested in the fight to save the world.
(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)
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