COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, France – Wherever he goes Ray Lambert wears his purple cap with the inscription "D-Day Survivor" in gold. And wherever he goes, he is celebrated.
Handshakes and selfie requests begin as soon as he arrives at the gate of Raleigh-Durham International Airport. He's on his way to Normandy to mark the moment 75 years ago, when he was given the right to wear this cap to attend what is probably the last major reunification of the Heroes of the Liberation of Europe.
He is 98 years old, a prominent traveler.
Capt. Mark Paul asks him to come to the check-in desk and picks up the microphone. "Mr. Lambert was at the 1st Infantry Division in Omaha Beach on D-Day," he says. "It is a great honor to welcome him today on our flight to Paris, so if you could give him a big hand, we would really appreciate it."
The crowd at the gate gets up and gives Lambert a long ovation.
Crewmen pose with him for a photo. He has handed over a miniature flag.
"God bless you," says the Purser Gena Poulos and reaches for his hand. Part of the 1st Division of the Army – the "Great Red". For many years Lambert did not speak about the horrors he saw and experienced. But now he feels it is his sacred duty to share his story.
Next week he will do just that. He is also celebrated by the President of the United States, who is kissed by women from all over the world and embraced as a brother by today's soldiers. And he will relive the glory and nightmare of his heroic moment.
"I did what I was called to do," he writes in his first book, "Every Man A Hero," published weeks before the jubilee. "As a combat medicine doctor, it was my job to save people and lead others who did the same, and I was proud of this job, and I have remained so, but I was always an ordinary man, not one who liked it Tip of one to stand. " parade …
"It is my job now, not for my sake, but to think of it for the sake of others."
Although Lambert does not want money – he was a successful businessman after the war – he and Darrell Simpkins, Lambert's neighbor, friend and personal physician, opted for the flight trainer, but the flight crew will have none of it and Lambert in first class transport.
A Delta companion pushes him into the plane. "I hope this trip over is much better than the previous one," says the man.
"Well, it certainly will," Lambert says with a smile, "MUCH better".
Before the start, there is another announcement about her special guest – and another round of applause.
It's an eight-hour flight, but between constant goodwill and anticipation, Lambert gets barely 20 minutes of sleep.
4. June – D-Day Minus Two:
The classroom at the Ecole Publique in Old Steinstadt Nonant is decorated with the flags of the Allied Powers. On the wall next to the door hangs a photograph of Lambert in uniform, his army garrison cap tilted open, a thin mustache on his upper lip.
Lambert will be accompanied by his host and best friend Christophe Coquel as always. Lambert met the former French tank commander and lieutenant colonel 15 years ago in the gendarmerie, when Coquel appeared on the occasion of the 60th anniversary as an informal interpreter a bit of the language. So Coquel would act as an intermediary between the children.
A child asks about his strongest memories of the war. Lambert reports that he disobeyed the order to rescue two men from a burning tank shortly before it exploded, and had gone out into a minefield to recover an injured man – an action for which General Omar Bradley himself awarded Lambert the second would his silver stars.
He tells how he was almost immediately hit in the right arm on D-Day, when the landing ramp of Omaha fell off and crashed as low as possible into the water to avoid the machine gunfire.
The children ask: what did they eat? Did it hurt when you got hurt? Were you afraid to die?
"When you're in combat, you do not think so much about death," Lambert tells the children. "Our belief was that we are the good guys who are fighting to destroy evil … This country was ruled by evil at the time, and our job was to come here and fight for your land and this Get rid of evil. " 19659005] Another child asks if Lambert had nightmares regarding Normandy.
"When I look at the beaches of Omaha, I remember all my friends killed there, and when I look at the canal and the water is rough, I, it sometimes seems that I can hear voices, but that Of course, I only have it in my head. "
At the end of the program, the children swarm around the front table. They give him a box of chocolates and a tin of cookies with a D-Day photo and the words "Thank you guys". A girl ties a purple-orange friendship bracelet to his right wrist.
Ribera Cecile plants "les bisous" on his reddened cheeks. He exclaims: "I get two kisses in France!"
"It was a great honor," says Cecile. "And I hope the kids will remember that for the rest of their lives."
5. June – D-Day Minus One:
When Lambert arrives at Omaha Beach at the Big Red One Museum, a wiry man in a black polo shirt and punk hairstyle greets him – Pierre-Louis Gosselin, founder of the museum.
The weather the day before had been cold and windy. Lambert had spent nearly three hours on the beach when a string of news crews waited for their windows to be turned. That evening, when he was at home with Coquel, Lambert got a fit of vomiting.
However, Lambert felt obliged to honor the young man who had done so much to preserve the memory of his beloved 1st Division.
The small museum in Colleville-sur-Mer is the result of Gosselin's 30-year obsession. The collection contains items as small as a soldier's letter to the iron "hedgehogs" with which the Germans had cut the coast in their futile attempt to thwart an Allied landing.
"It has now come to life in our own time" When most of my age from World War II die and move on, "Lambert tells the crowd that gathers in the museum." And in the future it will be very important that we are represented here in France. "
Lambert drapes a medal around Gosselin's neck solemnly, and the crowd applauds, the ministrant hugs his idol and then kisses him on the cheek.
" Now he is honorary member of the 1st "Division," says Lambert to the crowd. "And so you have to face the qualifications of the 1st Division so far. First duty and all these things and behave accordingly, as a good soldier would do. "
Asked what that honor, and Lambert, I mean, Gosselin is looking for the right words.
" My life, "says "I've dedicated my life to Big Red 1."
Lambert looks around the museum, and just behind the door is a large piece of rusted metal with smallpox, the ramp of a Higgins Landing Vehicle – just like that that nearly killed him 75 years ago.
During the battle, Lambert had noticed a man struggling in the deep water, caught in the barbed wire the Germans had dipped all the way down the beach.
Lambert waded up to him and made several dives before eventually releasing the man, and when they landed, a DropShip had appeared behind them, dropping its ramp and pushing Lambert and the other man onto the Bo
Lambert prayed to God "to give me a chance to save one man more".
Suddenly the ramp lifted. and the two men hopped to the surface. Lambert took the man to the beach, gave his men some orders, and then passed out in pain and blood loss.
Later he awoke to England on a ship. He would later learn that the ramp had crushed two of his vertebrae.
When Coquel sells the group, the car drives past a large, vivid photo of the D-Day attack.
On the other side are the words: "Les vrais heroes ne meurent jamais!" – "The true heroes never die."
6. June – D-Day:
Lambert sits in the front row of the podium next to Pvt. Russell Pickett, the last known surviving member of Company A of the 116th Infantry Regiment of the Virginia National Guard – the so-called "Bedford Boys." Despite the sunshine, it is cold and Lambert spreads a purple blanket over his and Pickett's lap.
He is unprepared when President Donald Trump speaks the words "Staff Sgt. Ray Lambert" in the middle of his speech.
] "Ray was just 23 years old, but he already earned three Purple Hearts and two Silver Stars for fights in North Africa and Sicily," says Trump to the subdued crowd. That was before the Alabama paramedic landed in Omaha Beach in the first wave.
"They came to the sector, right here among us," Trump continues. "& # 39; Easy Red & # 39; said Ray kept running back into the water as he dragged one man after another, he was shot by his arm, his leg was ripped open by splinters, his back was broken nearly." drowned.
Then he turns his head towards the straps behind him.
"Ray," he says, "The free world greets you."
As waves of applause overwhelm him, Lambert takes off his purple cap and pans
After the ceremony, a friend rolls him past the straight-lined rows of gleaming white crosses and stars of David in the American military graveyard overlooking Omaha Lambert wonder that the President of the United States – his commander in chief – blames him for
"I'm nothing," he says, "I'm just a soldier."
June 7 – D-Day Plus One:
Once again, Lambert is Once again, it's beside "My Rock." [This] 75 years ago, as bullets hissed and mortar kicked up sand and water, Lambert searched the beach for something, anything, behind which he wounded safely treat con nte. Suddenly he discovered it – a lump of German concrete remnants, about 2.80 m wide and 2.80 m high.
"It was my salvation," he says.
The rough lump has become known as "Ray's Rock". "Last year, a plaque bearing the names of the 16th Regiment's military physicians was attached.
Mayor Patrick Thomines asked Lambert to come to a wreath-laying ceremony, it's another cold, wet day, and Lambert's hands turn blue.  He wants to leave when a large group of soldiers are approaching over-exertion, members of the 12th Regiment Royal Artillery, an air defense unit stationed near Portsmouth, England.
Lambert renewed.  Lambert spends about 15 minutes on the beach and tells his stories and questions about the field, telling them about his rock.
"This was the only thing we could find on the beach to get the victims to treat them "He says," You can imagine coming into the distance, where the waves are, and gunned down, drowned and dead all over the beach. "
After Lambert dies Having shaken hands and posed for many photos, he sets off. He turns to the soldiers.
"We love you all," he says. "And you are all our brothers, all soldiers are brothers, and thank you for being here in our American sector today."
After a few more photos, Simpkins says it's time to leave. Flanked by a doctor and a gendarme, Lambert makes his way to the bluff – further than 1944.
9. June – D-Day Plus Three:
After a week of parties and dinner and toast with Calvados, we head back to Charles De Gaulle Airport.
Another round of selfies with the flight crew. Another kiss on the cheek of a pretty lady. Another upgrade to First Class. Another ovation from his fellow travelers.
Back on the ground in Raleigh, Lambert waits for his pockets as a woman approaches and touches his shoulder.
"When I heard you were on the plane, I hoped I would have the opportunity to meet you," says Caroline Wright, an associate at a Holly Springs IT company. "Thanks for your service, sir."
Wright tells Lambert that her grandfather, Clyde Hunt, also served in France during the war.
"He died before I was born," she says, rolling in tears over her cheeks. "And meeting someone of this generation …"
"I know you're proud of what he did," says Lambert sweetly. "And I appreciate you passing by, I'm getting emotional too, we could have a little wine party here."
Lambert is already planning to return to Normandy next year. But he knows how unlikely that is.
Two years ago Lambert weighed 173 pounds. Today he has dropped to 145, and doctors can not figure out why.
"My blood pressure is okay and I had physical problems," he said. "But I just seem to fade."
But he knows what old soldiers are doing.
You can follow Breed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/. AllenGBreed