Greeted like a long-lost friend by other veterans and serving officers from around the world, the moment which mattered most to Harrogate wheelchair-bound D-Day veteran John Rushton on his return to France was a sad
A packed schedule for the 95-year-old former Royal Marine, who landed under enemy fire on the beaches of Normandy 75 years ago, saw him treated like a celebrity in a week of anniversary events commemmorating D-Day centred on Arromanches.
But, after making a poignant pilgrimage to Sword Beach where he played his part on the day the outcome of the Second World War turned, the former chairman of Harrogate’s Royal Naval Association was keen to see the grave of a friend, Corporal ETH Youngman who will forever be 22.
Lively but frail Mr Rushton said: “It was sad, you just think how unlucky he was. I think his family had been along earlier to the cemetery. There was a fresh cross next to the grave with one red rose. So I placed mine alongside it.”
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Mr Rushton was accompanied on his private visit, funded partly by a grant from the D-Day Revisited charity, by his son David and his partner Liz, and his daughter Catherine.
The latter’s role as a professional translator came in handy negotiating the red tape involved with so many anniversary events in different parts of Normandy.
His son David said the trip had been like “minding an A-list celebrity for eight days.”
At one point Mr Rushton even found himself being interviewed by a journalist from the Wall Street Journal while visiting Omaha beach.
Mr Rushton himself said: “The whole thing was out of this world. Everyone was so very kind.
“Some were asking for autographs. Others wanted to be photographed with me. It was non-stop
“A lot of people just shook my hand and said “thank you.”
“After the march past on June 6 itself - or push past as I called it because so many of us were in wheelchairs - I was pleasantly surprised that senior officers came and sat down, caps-off, and chatted away to us.”
But attention from the likes of the Wall Street Journal is not going to the good-humoured Mr Rushton’s head.
He said: “To find out my ugly mug has got as far as America won’t affect me. I’m just a typical Yorkshireman.
“The anniversary last week was special. It was a happy occasion as well as sad. It meant something. It’s never going to be like that again. It could never happen again.”