OVID — American Legion members Thursday hosted a ceremony at Ovid Health Care to recognize the 75th anniversary of D-Day and pay tribute to the service of 93-year-old World War II veteran Eugene Schoendorf, who resides at the nursing home.
Schoendorf served in the U.S. Navy as a seaman on the USS Elizabeth C. Stanton. His ship fulfilled missions in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and participated in the battle of Okinawa.
The longtime owner of the IGA grocery store in Elsie joined the Navy the day after graduating from St. Johns High School in 1944 and served until 1946, operating a landing barge that helped move troops and equipment ashore.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been 75 years,” Schoendorf said before the ceremony, presented by members of the Elsie American Legion Post 502. “I’m happy to be here.”
On June 6, 1944, the largest invasion armada in history sailed from Great Britain across the English Channel toward Normandy, France. As the sun rose, tens of thousands of American, English, Canadian, French and other troops fought their way ashore to begin the liberation of continental Europe from Nazi occupation.
Thursday, world leaders, re-enactors, veterans and others gathered across Normandy to honor the sacrifice of those who took part.
Post Commander Gene Nethaway led the local proceedings, which included a prayer thanking the 2,501 Americans who died on D-Day for their ultimate sacrifice, the Pledge of Allegiance and the reading of a moving poem by actor Sam Elliott honoring a D-Day survivor.
At one point, Nethaway walked to the table where Schoendorf and his wife, Mary Jane, were seated, and shook the veteran seaman’s hand.
“Thank you. I mean it from my heart,” Nethaway told Schoendorf. “They won’t forget you.”
For the occasion, the community room in the nursing home was adorned with American flags, and red, white and blue decorations. Black-and-white video footage from the war played on a wall TV.
The 30 or so Ovid Health Care residents — including about nine veterans — family members and staffers who attended were treated to cake and punch.
“D-Day is a special day, not just for veterans but for everybody who’s here,” Nethaway said. “We are Americans, and we are here, thanks to those who served.”
Nethaway noted an estimated 75 to 80 million people died during WWII, representing 3 percent of the world’s population in 1940. Although the war began in 1939, the United States didn’t join the fight until after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Dec. 7, 1941.
“Every soldier had their own story,” he said, adding there are no more World War I veterans still alive and fewer WWII vets every day. “Now is the time to do something special for these veterans.”
Among the attendees were Schoendorf’s wife of 61 years, who lives in Elsie, and daughter Sarah Maynard of Chapin Township. The family looked at photos chronicling Schoendorf’s military service, carefully preserved in an album.
“I came because it’s my dad,” Maynard said, tearing up. “I appreciate him.”
Elsie American Legion members celebrated the milestone anniversary of D-Day all day, visiting the Veterans Affairs hospital in Saginaw in the morning, visiting Ovid to honor Schoendorf in the afternoon and hosting an open house at the post in the evening, to which WWII and all other veterans were invited.