Last Native American US veteran of D-Day landings marks Memorial Day

The 99-year-old tribal elder made Normandy his home in 2018

Charles Norman Shay during Sunday’s ceremony
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The Normandy American Cemetery held a special service on Sunday, May 26 to celebrate Memorial Day in the US, with guests including a 99-year-old D-Day veteran who now calls France home. 

Charles Norman Shay, a Penobscot tribal elder and writer from Indian Island, Maine, was drafted into the army in 1943, and worked as a combat medic during the Second World War. 

He was 19 when he took part in the D-Day Landings on June 6, 1944.

“I was only thinking about survival,” he told the Veterans History Project, a collection of the personal memories of military veterans that is part of the US Library of Congress. 

“Once I got to the beach… I began immediately treating the men that were there.”

The now 99-year-old was decorated for his service in both France and Korea, receiving the Silver and Bronze Stars for bravery. He was awarded the French Légion d’Honneur by President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007. 

Read more: D-Day commemorations: What events are happening around France?

Some 500 people attended a service at Colleville-sur-Mer on Sunday, May 26, in honour of the 9,388 US soldiers who were laid to rest in the cemetery.

Memorial Day, a US public holiday held on the last Monday in May, was established after the Civil War in 1865 to honour those who had died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. 

Mr Shay has lived in Normandy since 2018. He is the last survivor of the 500 Native Americans who landed on the beaches of Normandy in June, 1944.

He pulled several wounded fellow soldiers from the water and carried them onto Omaha Beach. 

“I looked back and I saw that there were many wounded men that were floundering in the water and could not help themselves and I knew that if nobody went to help them they were doomed to die. So I left what I was doing on the beach and I proceeded to get as many men as I could out of the water,” he told the Veterans History Project.

The cemetery will also host some 12,000 people on June 6 to commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day. Mr Shay intends to return to honour his fallen comrades.