WESTERLY — A group of about 100, peppered with veterans, including four who served during World War II, gathered Thursday at the Westerly Armory to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
The audience rose in unison when David Bilotto, a Westerly High School sophomore, asked for recognition of all the veterans on hand for the event, especially those who fought in World War II: Ernie Cassis, David Mann, Thomas F. Moore Jr., and John Terranova.
Bilotto, a sophomore, and his classmate, Andrew Fiore, delivered brief remarks as part of the program. Three other students from the high school, Abigail Casey, Jacob Dauphinias, and Adam Gilman, also helped organize the event. A portion of filmmaker Tim Gray's documentary "Over Normandy" was shown.
The 93-year-old Mann said he takes every opportunity to talk about his wartime experience.
"I keep thinking about who I see here today and all of the stories about the greatest generation, but worry those stories will be forgotten. I'm doing everything I can to stop that from happening," Mann said.
When people stop and thank him for his service Mann said he responds by saying "let me tell you about my service, and I tell you no one ever stops me. They listen."
An Army combat engineer who earned three Purple Hearts, Mann described his time in active service as "working with General Patton." "I learned, while I served, never to say I worked for somebody. I worked with them. That's important and made a tremendous impression on me," Mann said.
Moore, dressed in a blue blazer with the medals and badges he earned pinned to it, sat at a table surrounded by many of his children. He was 19 when his unit, the 2nd Ranger Infantry Battalion, landed on Utah Beach a few days after D-Day. The medals he wore were a Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and a European Theater of Operations with three stars, one for each of the three battles he fought in. His blazer also featured a World War II Victory Medal and a Combat Infantry badge.
Terranova, 99, was joined by family members and friends. He was among the first wave to survive the Normandy invasion on Omaha Beach. At the age of 23 he was inducted into the U.S. Army. He trained in Virginia and tells stories of nights in a foxhole with enemy rounds flying overhead.
Cassis is a Seabee veteran of the 125th United States Naval Construction Battalion. He is a former vice president of the board of directors of the Westerly Armory Restoration Inc.
The documentary film focuses on the personal stories of those who served in World War II fighting to liberate German-occupied France and Western Europe from Nazi control. Bilotto said the film held several lessons.
"It reminds us of the past, for history often repeats itself. It also reminds us" of the sacrifices made by those who served, he said.