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What these World War II veterans remember most about VE-Day

Seventy-five years ago this week, Nazi Germany surrendered to the Allies in Europe in a red schoolhouse in Reims, France. World War II would last three more brutal months in the Pacific, but six years of horror and Holocaust was then ended in Europe. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant talks to veterans of the fight about what they remember.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now to a different type of remembrance.

    Seventy-five years ago this week, Nazi Germany surrendered to the Allies in Europe in a red schoolhouse in Reims, France. World War II would last three more brutal months in the Pacific, but six years of horror and Holocaust was then ended in Europe.

    Here's special correspondent Malcolm Brabant, with veterans in their twilight, as the globe faces a new and different challenge.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Despite the COVID-19 lockdown, they were determined to celebrate VE-Day in Bracknell, 40 miles west of London, and honor their 98-year-old neighbor, Stanley Booker.

    Squadron leader Booker, a navigator on a Halifax bomber, was shot down over France in 1944, betrayed to the Nazis, tortured with medical experiments in the Buchenwald concentration camp, and was in a German prisoner of war camp on this day 75 years ago.

  • Stanley Booker:

    The Germans had just gone and left us. They'd made a hole in the fence with an armored vehicle. And we were shut in there.

    And there was no mention of V.E. Day.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The squadron leader's heroism was supposed to be recognized with a low pass over his house by a Spitfire, the great British wartime fighter plane.

  • Stanley Booker:

    The heroes are those lads we left behind. We are the survivors. We are the lucky ones. But to be — to represent them, I feel very honored.

    I just hope they have as much difficulty — don't have as much difficulty finding us as we used to have during the war when we used to fly our bombers home.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Booker lined up on the designated flight path, but the Spitfire pilot strayed off course, no navigator on board, complained the old airman.

    Joe Cattini was also in Germany 75 years ago in the northern city of Bremen.

  • Joe Cattini:

    We were still fighting.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Can you recall precisely what you were doing?

  • Joe Cattini:

    We had a pocket of S.S. who wouldn't surrender. Although the war was over, as far as they were concerned, it was death for them. We had to shell the barracks. And, eventually, they did surrender.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Cattini landed in Normandy on D-Day in June 1944 and fought his way across Europe.

  • Joe Cattini:

    I am not a hero. The heroes are the ones who died. We were the lucky ones.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    What do you think your legacy is?

  • Joe Cattini:

    We have had 75 years of peace without fighting in Europe.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    This may seem like a strange question, but do you miss your war?

  • Joe Cattini:

    I was glad when it was finished. I wouldn't like to go through another war like that, when you wake up in the morning and you don't know whether you will be able to go to sleep again that night. You may not be alive.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The springboard for ultimate victory was the D-Day invasion. At last year's 75th anniversary in Normandy, Medal of Honor winner Ray Lambert summed up the achievement.

  • Ray Lambert:

    There's no greater feeling for a soldier than to liberate a country. And when you see those people so grateful and get their homes back, and you drive the enemy out, that makes us all very proud that we were a part of that.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Seven veterans accompanied President Trump as he laid a wreath to commemorate those who sacrificed their lives to defeat the evil of Adolf Hitler's Third Reich.

    This evening, from Windsor Castle, where she has been isolating during the pandemic, the queen gave this address:

  • Queen Elizabeth II:

    Never give up, never despair, that was the message of V.E. Day.

    Many people laid down their lives in that terrible conflict. They fought, so we could live in peace.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Tonight, on television in Britain, singer Katherine Jenkins triggered a wave of nostalgia, duetting with wartime heroine Vera Lynn along to this classic number, "We Will Meet Again."

  • Stanley Booker:

    Those days, songs had meaning.

  • Joe Cattini:

    It more or less nearly brings tears to me eyes when I hear it.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Health workers applauded squadron leader Booker as he resumed his COVID-19 lockdown, ending a moment of respite in this new world war.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Malcolm Brabant in Bracknell.

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