D-Day paratrooper finds solace in museum

Memorial Day is officially a time to remember the men and women who have served our country so well. Anna Werner reports on a World War II veteran Tom Blakey, who at age 93 has once again volunteered for service to his country - at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans.

Today, much of the world is reflecting on the day when Allied forces penetrated Nazi-occupied Western Europe in an effort that eventually turned World War II against Germany.

On this date in 1944, more than 150,000 soldiers, including 73,000 Americans, landed on the beaches of Normandy, France. Nearly 70 years have passed since the Normandy landings — better known as D-Day — but the sacrifices made by thousands of soldiers live on.

D-Day survivor Thomas Blakey of New Orleans remembers the operation well.

The then-24-year-old Army paratrooper landed in St. Marcus, France, at 1 a.m. on June 6, 1944.

“I landed in a cemetery there,” said Blakey, now 92. “I was 12 miles from where I was supposed to be, which was La Fière Bridge.”

For four days, Blakey and his fellow soldiers fought over La Fière Bridge, backing up Utah Beach in Normandy to prevent Germans from reinforcing it.

Blakey spent a month in Normandy, during which time almost half of his division died.

“It changed the world at that time,” Blakey told The Daily Advertiser this week. “It’s not that way anymore. They’re killing them today as fast as we did in World War II.”

Today, the 68th anniversary of D-Day, Blakey will share his experience at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans. The museum, formerly called the National D-Day Museum, is also celebrating its 13th birthday.

“To accomplish what they accomplished was really phenomenal,” said Bill Detweiler, the museum’s consultant for military and veterans affairs.

“It was the largest maneuver of its type in an ongoing war and a turning point in the World War II European Theater.”

Following WWII’s end in 1945, Blakey moved from his hometown of Houston to New Orleans to work in the oil and gas industry.

He has a “big love” for Lafayette, where he ran Blakey’s Log Service for 20 years.

With each passing year, it becomes more difficult to find D-Day veterans. The WWII Museum estimates that between 8,000 and 60,000 D-Day vets are still living.

“There are not many paratroopers around anymore, just a few,” Blakey said. “We’re a dying breed.”