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James Kunkle, 91, was part of the 401st Fighter Squadron that flew in and out of the small French hamlet of La Cambe following D-Day. Several times over the summer of 1944, Kunkle would take off and land from a family's farm, and today, 70 years later, he is still in touch and even staying at the home of the friends he made.
"Jim is a part of our family," Dominique LeGrand, whose grandmother met Kunkle in 1944, told NPR. "He's like our grandfather. It's very emotional." LeGrand couldn't keep the tears from streaming down his face, but he wasn't alone. As Kunkle and several other elderly veterans — all needing assistance, some in wheelchairs, others using canes — made their way through the village Thursday, the feeling that this might be the last meeting between the liberators and liberated was heavy in the air.
Kunkle and the other veterans made it to the village to mark the anniversary of D-Day and to witness the unveiling of a plaque in their honor. "If you want to get through it and live through it and see it to its end, you gotta go back to where it was," veteran Don McCarthy, 90, said. "You gotta put your feet in the water. You gotta crawl in the sand. And then you'll be alright. And I have."
There are very few residents left like Germain, 86, and Lucien Rigault, 89. They married a year after the war ended, and have stayed in La Cambe ever since. Both remember June 6, 1944 vividly. "We were scared," Lucien said. "But very happy to be liberated." Listen to the NPR report below. --Catherine Garcia