WATERVILLE — The public is invited to commemorate the 76th anniversary of D-Day by attending a remembrance ceremony Saturday evening in the parking lot of the VFW.

The 6:15 p.m. event, organized by state Rep. Bruce White, D-District 109, and his wife, Doreen, will include speeches, prayers and the ringing of bells to commemorate D-Day and pay tribute to veterans of World War II. The local ceremony, to be held at the Forest J. Pare Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1285 at 53 Water St.. is an extension of a Freedom Rings Global D-Day event in which bells will be rung all over the world at 6:44 p.m. to mark the occasion.

Bruce White

D-Day occurred 76 years ago on June 6, 1944, when the allied forces during World War II stormed the beaches at Normandy in northern France to liberate German-occupied France. It was the largest seaborne invasion in history and marked the beginning of the liberation of western Europe.

“The focus will be on the D-Day anniversary and what it means and to recognize our veterans from the Greatest Generation,” White said Friday.

White recommends those who attend the event stay 6 feet apart and wear masks, per state guidelines during the pandemic.

Mike Switzer, commander of the local VFW post, will start the ceremony by reciting the pledge of allegiance, followed by a prayer from Steve Crate, deacon at St. Joseph Maronite Catholic Church. Opening remarks will be delivered by White. Craig Bailey, commander of Bourque-Lanigan American Legion Post No. 5 of Waterville will speak, as will Legion Chaplain Pearley Lachance and then Switzer. After closing remarks and thanks from White, his wife, Doreen, will ring a bell at 6:44 p.m.

Pearley Lachance, chaplain of Bourque-Lanigan American Legion Post No. 5 of Waterville, seen in March 2019, will be on the speakers Saturday during a D-Day commemoration ceremony. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file

“I have coordinated with Father Patrick Finn from Corpus Christi Parish and he plans to ring the bell over in Winslow at the St. John Catholic Church,” White said. “We will ring the bells to keep history, the memory, the sacrifices alive of the Greatest Generation. Most of them are in their 90s now.”

The local event came about when White was asked to organize something locally around Freedom Rings Global that would honor Tom Rice, a World War II paratrooper who served in Company C, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. Rice was a commander and platoon sergeant who secured causeway exits behind Utah Beach. World War II paratroopers were known as the Screaming Eagles.

Last year on D-Day, Rice, then-97, parachuted into Normandy in the same drop zone he had jumped 75 years prior. He had planned to take part in an anniversary celebration in France this year, but everything changed because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to White.

“One of the people organizing the national event in California had a relative around here who was trying to find somebody to organize something,” White said of how he got involved. “With the COVID situation and everything going on, he wasn’t getting any response. So, I was contacted and basically took it from there because I thought it was important. We all have friends and relatives who are veterans and really, the thing about Tom Rice, who on the 75th anniversary of D-Day, was in Normandy and did a tandem jump — he was there on D-Day back in 1944 — is the focus.”

White said he contacted Switzer, the local VFW commander, to ask if it was possible to have a ceremony Saturday at the VFW.

“This is wonderful of him — he was on board right away,” White said. “They weren’t able to hold a Memorial Day parade and I think Mike Switzer felt it’s nice we can do something. We’ve all seen people be creative, so to speak, with graduations and awards ceremonies, so we have to think out of the box.”

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