WATERVILLE — A small crowd of veterans and community members gathered at the Forest S. Pare Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1285 on Saturday to hear speeches and prayers before ringing a bell to commemorate D-Day and pay tribute to the veterans of World War II.

The event was organized by state Rep. Bruce White, D-District 109, and his wife, Doreen.

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 the German-occupied country. It was the largest seaborne invasion in history and marked the beginning of the liberation of western Europe.

Mike Switzer, commander of the local VFW post, started the ceremony by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by a prayer from Steve Crate, deacon at St. Joseph Maronite Catholic Church.

The crowd of about 30 gathered around the front of the VFW, some clad in masks, to bow their heads during Crate’s opening prayer.

“As we live in these troubled times, we ask that you God (guide the) leaders of our great country, states, counties, small cities, towns, in all their decisions. The burden that has been on their plate and placed on their shoulders can be overwhelming during these times,” Crate said. “Protect and guide our military and law enforcement; public service, health care and other caregivers; all those impacted by the current crisis.”

“Today, we especially remember those soldiers who stormed the beaches on Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944,” Crate said. “We honor those who served in that historical day, both those who lost their life on that day and those that continue to live on.”

In Waterville, 3,000 men were drafted or volunteered during World War II; 60 did not return. In Winslow, of the 700 who served, 30 did not return.

The celebration was an extension of a Freedom Rings Global D-Day event, where bells were rung all over the world at 6:44 p.m. to mark the occasion.

“We will ring the bells to keep history; the memory, the sacrifices alive of the Greatest Generation,” White previously told the Morning Sentinel. “Most of them are in their 90s now.”

During White’s opening remarks, he mentioned Tom Rice, now 98, who was in Normandy on D-Day. Rice, a World War II paratrooper, served in Company C, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. A commander and a platoon sergeant, Rice secured causeway exits behind Utah Beach.

“We are ringing the bell in honor of Tom and many others who sacrificed on this day 76 years ago,” White said. “These young men and women understood what was required of them and willingly volunteered their duties. Many of them were younger than 20 and had been raised during a time when the United States was quickly taking its place as the most powerful nation in the world.”

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