By Kelly MacConomy
On a sultry Saturday this past June 9, the City of Alexandria along with her Sister City of Caen, France commemorated the 74th anniversary of the D-Day invasion inside City Hall when inclement weather threatened the planned Market Square location. The City has proclaimed June to be D-Day Commemoration Month. June 6, 1944 marked the largest air, land and sea invasion in history. Led by General Dwight D. Eisenhower the massive assault upon the beaches of Normandy incorporated American, Canadian, British and free-French forces, culminating in the advancement of the liberation of Western Europe.
Jennifer Reading, Chair of the Alexandria-Caen Sister City Committee, welcomed the World War II veterans, dignitaries, Boy Scouts and passers-by assembled in the Viola Lawson Lobby. The 40’s swing group Blue Jazz performed period favorites while exhibition swing dancers delighted the audience, two-stepping to the likes of Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.
Caen is the capital of Normandy. Alexandria’s Sister City was devastated by the fighting that occurred after the invasion. Seventy-three percent of the city was destroyed. The Sister City concept was instituted by President Eisenhower on September 11,1956 to create and foster partnerships between communities in other Countries, creating the People-to-People Program as a citizen diplomacy initiative. Alexandria joined Caen as its Sister City in 1991.
After a rousing version of the Star Spangled Banner and La Marseillaise (the French National Anthem), Mayor Allison Silberberg, Virginia State Delegate Mark Levine, and Alexandria City Councilmen John Taylor Chapman and Willie Bailey movingly read excerpts from personal narratives of soldiers present at the Normandy invasion. Among the honored guests were local World War II veterans who participated in the invasion including a Navy WAVE who was on active duty in Normandy as a nurse. The D-Day event was honored by the presence of Kim Ching, a Marine who had the distinction of being in Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941, the day that Japan attacked the US Pacific Fleet, and also present at the surrender of Japan aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, September 2, 1945.
The threat of impending rain failed to curb the enthusiasm of the 8th annual D-Day celebration as reenactors set up camp in every nook and cranny or meeting room on the first floor of City Hall. Interactive exhibit displays engaged young and old alike. If there is one thing that Alexandrians embrace as wholeheartedly as history it is hospitality, which is rarely without a few curves. Bravo to the organizers and all the participants who made the day unforgettable. Jennifer Reading invites everyone to mark their calendars for next year’s extra-special commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Normandy invasion. She vows to make it an event to remember. Come rain or come shine.