June 6th -- just another ordinary day at the Mall, so I thought as I laced up my running shoes looking forward to the familiar sound of rubber soles sliding gently over loose gravel along the worn, weathered path leading from the Nation's Capitol. Just another day on the Mall, or so I thought.
Actually, yes, the tourists from all across the land were just as plentiful and delightful to see, as you would expect for a slow, breezy June, weekend afternoon, enjoying the transformation of America's front yard to a open-field sports mecca boasting a hodge podge of football, kickball, anything-goes-ball, and then there was me -- running carelessly along, completely absorbed by my surroundings, oblivious to the sun rays breaking through scattered clouds and the great streams of brow sweat trickling slowly down a side or two.
And then I reached welcomed destinations -- World War II -- the pillars, the bronze sculpted rope, the fountains that danced like it was V-J Day all over again -- it was such a sight to admire, desire, behold.
There were a lot of people out today, to honor, to pay tribute, perhaps to pray. There was also a large gathering of veterans -- more so than normal. Then I wondered if I missed a holiday. Did society come and invite the band and not include me? At that moment, it dawned on my, like the coming of spring after a hard winter -- the 65th Anniversary of Normandy!
I would meet a lot of veterans that afternoon, some from the Atlantic theater, others from the Pacific theater -- all real-life Heroes in my book. Here's my story:
SSGT Michael Bartolomeo who was with Company C, 1st Battalion, 117th Regiment of the 30th Infantry Division aka "Old Hickory" fought in Omaha Beach and crossed into Belgium and Germany spent a lot of time with me telling me gripping stories of war and suffering.
Signalman, US Navy, Wesley O. Niccolls, Sr. who changed all the radio frequencies for the Okinawa invasion. Mr Niccolls also invented the electric motor that is used by all the space vehicles.
Pict 1: Wesley talks to Washington Times photojournalist, Allison Shelley
Pict 2: Wesley talks to an Honor Flight volunteer.
Wesley taking time talking with students, tourists and DC natives like me.
Seaman First Class Frank Manera, 82 years, who served onboard the USS Langley. Wesley's ship repaired the carrier Langley, after she was hit by a Japanese kamikaze.
SSGT Michael Bartolomeo who was with 1st Division, Company C, fought in Omaha Beach and crossed into Belgium and Germany.
Tech Sgt Bob Carlson talks with another WW II Veteran
SSGT Michael Bartolomeo was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for his heroic achievement in action on 7 August 1944, in France. The certifate that came with his medal read
"Private Bartolomeo braved heavy enemy fire to evacuate two of his wounded comrades" which occurred during the battle of Mortain, in the vicinity of St.Barthelmy, France.
With Wesley Niccolls and Frank Manera in the background is Jim Carty who served aboard USS Molo (AK-64) in the Pacific theater.
SSGT Bartolomeo with his proud granddaughter, Shannon Gallagher.
What an amazing, memorable afternoon -- I was truly flabbergasted and appreciate of all their sacrifices and achievements -- one I'll never forget.