A memorial stone was inaugurated in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer in the Calvados département on June 5, 2017, to honor the Native American soldiers who died during the Normandy Landings on Omaha Beach in 1944. A chapter of history that deserves to be remembered.
Almost 25,000 Native American soldiers fought in World War II. History (and Hollywood) have remembered the role played by Navajo messengers, whose language was used as a secret code during battles in the Pacific. But the Native regiments were in fact deployed across the entire warzone. Dutch anthropologist Harald E. L. Prins is a researcher at Kansas State University and an expert in the First Peoples of North and South America, and estimates that 175 Native American soldiers charged the Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944.
Charles Norman Shay, a member of the Penobscot tribe originally from Maine, was part of the first wave of soldiers. At just 19 years old, he was a medic in the F Company of the 1st Infantry Division of the U.S. Army, famously known as the “Big Red One.” Tasked with patching up his wounded comrades, he received the Silver Star for his bravery and devotion. “I don’t know how many wounded men I saved that day,” says the veteran. “It’s not important.”
Now 92, Shay is the last surviving Native American soldier to have fought on D-Day.
Shay was in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer in Calvados on June 5 of this year. The town is one of three which fronted Omaha Beach, and inaugurated the first French monument in honor of the Native American soldiers who took part in the Landings. The memorial stone is crafted in granite from a quarry in the Manche département, and was sculpted by Shay’s nephew into the shape of a tortoise.
The tortoise is a sacred animal that represents the earth, wisdom and longevity in Native American mythology. “It is also the name many tribes use to describe our continent,” says the American veteran. “I have the tortoise symbol embroidered on the back of my deerskin jacket.”