Student reflects on D-Day experience
A Palmerston North teen was among the crowd of world leaders and war veterans commemorating the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in France.
Palmerston North Boys' High School prefect Joseph Helu-Makasini has returned to school this week after a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Normandy.
The 17-year-old was one of two school students selected to accompany nine World War II veterans, aged between 89 and 97, and New Zealand's Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae to northern France.
Veteran Jim Kelly, who served in Europe and is an old boy of Boys' High, was also on the trip.
The group attended a ceremony at Bayeux Cathedral and visited the Bayeux War Cemetery, where there was one New Zealand sailor buried.
"We went to see his grave, laid poppies and the vets stood arm to arm as the bugler played his reveille; it was quite moving," Helu-Makasini said.
"There's over 4500 soldiers in there and it's one of hundreds of cemeteries from World War I and World War II; it's quite sobering."
The main event of the New Zealanders' six-day trip was in Ouistreham on Friday, June 6.
Thousands of people, including United States President Barack Obama and the Queen, paid tribute to the soldiers, sailors and airmen who died capturing the beaches of Normandy from Nazi Germany.
The New Zealand contingent also visited the five beaches where Allied troops landed during the early hours of June 6, 1944 - Utah, Omaha, Gold, Sword and Juno. The Kiwi veterans had patrolled there.
It was a privilege to commemorate the anniversary with the men who served, Helu-Makasini said.
"Jim was talking about how he was on Omaha beach patrolling and taking Americans on LCMs, or land craft mechanised, [which were vessels that carried troops and tanks to the invasion].
"He said it was terrible taking all those men over there that he knew wouldn't come back.
"It's hard to think I'm sitting here doing physics, but 70 years ago people my age were landing on those beaches."
Helu-Makasini, a formation warrant officer in the New Zealand Cadets, planned to join the defence force when he finished school.