LONDON (AP) — British D-Day veteran Bill Gladden turned 100 on Saturday, a day after his niece threw a surprise birthday party for him. It was a big fuss he didn't really expect, though the old soldier had tears in his eyes long before he caught sight of a cake decorated with a replica of his uniform and the medals he earned.
But Gladden isn't focused on his birthday this year, big as it is. He's looking six months down the road.
That's because the event he really wants to attend is the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings on June 6. It may be the last of the big events marking the beginning of the end of World War II in Europe because so few of the 850,000 troops who took part remain. Gladden wants to be there to honor those who are gone — to remind people that victory did not come cheap.
“If I could do that this year, I should be happy,” he told The Associated Press from his home in Haverhill, eastern England, where he still lives on his own. ”Well, I am happy now, but I should be more happy.”
A dispatch rider with the 6th Airborne Reconnaissance Regiment, Gladden landed behind the front lines on D-Day, June 6, 1944, in a wooden glider loaded with six motorcycles and a 17,000-pound (7,700-kilogram) tank. The unit was part of an operation charged with securing bridges over the River Orne and Caen Canal so they could be used by Allied forces moving inland from the Normandy beaches.
Based in an orchard…