Omaha Beach Memorial – MSgt Charles Norman Shay, Native American

 In Military, Veterans

Saint Laurent-sur-Mer Park, June 5, 2017 – A blue granite Turtle lies in the sand on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach in Normandy. Nearby, a plaque reminds visitors of the battle, and the sacrifices that took place there on June 6, 1944.  A bench provides a place to reflect on that day.

It’s not the only memorial on Omaha Beach, but it is a new one. The Charles Shay Indian Memorial is dedicated to those Native Americans who gave their lives in the D-Day landing meant to free France from the grip of the Nazis.

omaha beach memorial

“There were mothers across Turtle Island [North America] praying for their brave sons. My heart breaks for those women who were never able to welcome their sons home again.” Charles Shay

The plaque reads in part,

“In honor of Charles Norman Shay and in grateful memory of the 500 American and Canadian Indian soldiers who participated in Operation Neptune for the liberation of Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944.”

The Charles Shay Indian Memorial

Retired MSgt Charles Norman Shay, 93 is Native American, a Penobscot Tribal elder from Indian Island, Maine. He was a medic attached to Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division on June 6, 1944.

He was only  19 years old, and D-Day was his first battle.

“On the evening of June 5, 1944, I was aboard the Henrico heading across the Channel, when I had a surprise visit from a Penobscot Indian warrior named Melvin Neptune. He didn’t trouble me with his combat experience, nor did he offer me advice. Instead, we talked about home because he knew I had never been in combat … all hell was about to break loose on me.” Charles Shay to Maine Insights

The memorial is dedicated to him and to the other 500 or so Indian soldiers who fought in the D-Day battle. His gallantry as a combat medic earned him the Silver Star after repeatedly exposing himself to enemy fire in his attempts to rescue other soldiers who had been wounded on that day.

Almost half of his company and its officers were wounded or killed on Omaha Beach. At first he didn’t speak much about that day, watching young men die and being unable to help them were memories he wanted to forget for many years.

Indian Country Today wrote,

We don’t know how it felt to plunge into cold water reddened by the blood of comrades; to run, crawl or cower on a beach littered with dying men and body parts vanishing in a rising tide; to cry out amid a hailstorm of bullets and shrapnel; to smell the stench of burning bodies and vehicles; to look at all this carnage through eyes stung by thick smoke.

Shay survived the battle, only to be captured by the Germans later on. He was liberated from the Nazi prison camp in 1945.

The Memorial at came about after Shay met Madame Marie Legrand of Caen, who launched the effort to create a park to honor all North American Indians who fought on the Beaches of Normandy. That memorial was dedicated in June, 2017.

In 2007, Shay received the French Légion d’Honneur from then French President Nicholas Sarkozy at the French Ambassador’s residence in Washington DC. In 2007, he began returning to Normandy every year, and began speaking to different groups about his experiences.

This year MSgt Shay turned 93, and it is unclear how much longer he’ll be able to keep up his speaking engagements and return trips to Normandy. But he has written a book about his military service and D-Day called “Project Omaha Beach,” which can be purchased at Amazon.

“Every soldier who landed on this beach was a hero.” Charles Shay

Featured picture of MSgt Shay (center) at the dedication ceremony. via Army Times

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