June 6, 2014 at 5:54 pm

Local D-Day vets honored on anniversary of historic invasion

St. Clair Shores — As world leaders gathered in Normandy, France, to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, seven World War II veterans, most of whom participated in the attack that day, were honored at a ceremony at the Detroit Arsenal of Democracy Museum.

“These are the gentlemen that saved the world, in World War II, all the way from the Pacific to the Atlantic,” said John Lind, director of the museum and host of the event.

Among the veterans present was Tom Meagher, 93, who was a prisoner of war for 391 days.

“I went into combat on the 10th and I got captured on the 10th,” said Meagher, who served in the Army’s 2nd Infantry division. “I lasted 10 hours.”

Meagher spent the entire rest of the war in German prison camps, being marched around or moved by boxcar — the same ones the Nazis used to transport Jews to concentration camps.

“At the end of the war, three tanks came in, liberated us and took out all the Germans,” the St. Clair Shores resident said. “I couldn’t have been any happier.”

As for the ceremonies being held to honor World War II veterans, he said “it’s a great thing.”

“I appreciate the thoughts of people,” he said. “I have lived a long life and the good Lord has been with me many a time.”

William Stafford, 91, who served in Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Army 1st Infantry, was also on hand speaking about his military experience in World War II. He was drafted in 1943.

“I waited for the letter from Franklin,” the St. Clair Shores resident said. “He invited me. I couldn’t refuse.”

Stafford stormed the beaches with heavy artillery in the second wave.

“All I saw was the dead lying there on the beach,” he said. “They were evacuating the wounded back to England.”

Once they pushed the Germans back from the hedgerows and moved into the countryside, they started meeting the French.

“They were happy, happy, happy to see us,” Stafford said. “They gave us wine. I was 19 and I thought that was neat.”

Seventy years after thousands of Allied troops stormed the beaches at Normandy, world leaders including President Barack Obama returned to the hallowed ground along the beaches to honor those who fought.

Speaking from the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, where more than 9,000 tombstones overlook Omaha Beach, the president called the D-Day attack on June 6, 1944, “a powerful manifestation of America’s commitment to human freedom.”

“Our commitment to liberty, our claim to equality, our claim to freedom and to the inherent dignity of every human being — that claim is written in the blood on these beaches, and it will endure for eternity,” Obama said on a morning that dawned glorious and bright over the sacred site he called “democracy’s beachhead.

Before the ceremony, the president met with a few veterans who fought in the attack.

“These men waged war so that we might know peace,” Obama said. “They sacrificed so that we might be free. They fought in hopes of a day when we’d no longer need to fight. We are grateful to them.”

If there’s one thing the veterans at the museum in St. Clair Shores agreed upon, it’s that they don’t consider themselves heroes, no matter how heroic their actions were.

“The heroes are still over there,” said Fred Medel, 91, an Army recon soldier in D-Day. “We just did a job like anyone else.”

Photo gallery: Michigan D-Day veterans remember

The Associated Press contributed.

Stanley Kokuba, 90, of St. Clair Shores talks with two members of the Patriot Guard Riders, Andi Dreucsan of Eastpointe and Ron Bur of Waterford. / Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News
James May, 3, of Clinton Township stands with a photo of his great- ... (Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News)