With lighted candles and unfurled flags, and rose petals dropped from the sky, hundreds gathered Friday across Long Island and in New York City to honor veterans on the 70th anniversary of D-Day.
The invasion on June 6, 1944 -- an all-out effort in which 160,000 Allied troops pushed ashore onto the French coastline and into the teeth of German guns -- took the lives of an estimated 2,500 American soldiers within a few hours.
"We know that in that massive army, the key to victory was ordinary men," Stony Brook University President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. said during a ceremony at the Long Island State Veterans Home located on the college campus.
Michael Settanni, 101, one of three nursing home residents who are D-Day veterans, said storming a beach in Normandy was simply something he had to do.
"It is just what I did, and I was happy doing it," he said.
Friday's ceremonies included the dedication of the Museum of American Armor on the grounds of Old Bethpage Village Restoration in Nassau County. More than 300 people, including veterans of World War II and their families, attended.
Herman "Hy" Horowitz, 94, of East Meadow, recalled rolling through French towns after D-Day and being greeted by "grateful French people, tears of joy running down their cheeks and thanking us."
Horowitz, his voice quaking, also recalled the comrades "who surrendered all of their tomorrows" on the beaches.
In New York City, three helicopters flew over the Statue of Liberty, showering France's gift to the United States with 1 million red rose petals.
Just before the petal drop, students unfurled two giant flags at the base of the statue -- one American, one French. A band then played both countries' national anthems and another banner was held up reading "The French Will Never Forget." Hundreds of World War II veterans, history buffs and active duty military members attended.
D-Day played a pivotal role in the liberation of Europe -- most of which had been under Nazi occupation for four years or more -- by providing a beachhead through which Allied forces could pour men and materiel.
At a ceremony Friday at Suffolk County police headquarters in Yaphank, D-Day veterans Joseph Johnson and Frank Agoglia reflected on comrades who fell, often within arms' length of where they stood.
"I think about the guys who didn't make it," said a tearful Johnson, 94, of Lindenhurst, who hit Omaha Beach as a member of the Army's 156th Infantry. "All those who were so young and who gave their lives."
Agoglia, 90, of Deer Park, said, "I always pray for the parents of those who lost sons that day. My thoughts are always with them."
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone referred to the sense of duty of those whom newsman and author Tom Brokaw anointed as "The Greatest Generation" and how they embraced their roles at such a young age. "These men were called to save the world. And they did it," Bellone said.
But children of several D-Day veterans said their fathers seldom mentioned the war.
"Maybe trauma," said Johnson's daughter, Kathleen McGowan, a Suffolk police officer, explaining her father's half-century of near silence. "He saw a lot in those years."
Johnson said he has begun opening up about the war, hoping that his generation's burden can spare young lives in the future. "I wouldn't want the youth of today to go through what we went through," he said.
Agoglia was aboard a troop-carrying glider that crashed on French soil during the invasion. Several of his fellow soldiers were killed.
"I was lucky," said Agoglia, a retired NYPD detective. "I'm fortunate to be here today. I know that."
With Martin C. Evans