Marian Wynn, 92, was a VIP at the 75th anniversary ceremony of the D-Day invasion of France during World War II.
She sat front and center with dignitaries from around the world during the solemn ceremony at Normandy honoring those who died during the pivotal invasion to liberate Europe from Nazi control.
Wynn had no idea why she had been asked to sit behind the stage while her fellow Rosie the Riveters who made the trip — Marian Sousa, Agnes Moore, Phyllis Gould and Mae Crier, all in their 90s — watched from the audience during the ceremony in June.
“I didn’t know why I was there until the president called my name,” Wynn said of the moment Donald Trump introduced her and called her over to the podium where he stood with French President Emmanuel Macron. “I never dreamed I’d be there. I never dreamed I’d be on stage with the president.”
It was a memorable experience for Wynn, but still secondary to a very personal moment that same day.
“I had a really nice time in France, but the highlight was seeing my brother’s grave,” said Wynn, who came from a large family in Minnesota and now lives in the Suisun Valley, a rural area outside Fairfield. “It was very emotional. I was trying so hard not to cry because NBC was filming and I said I’m not going to cry on camera.”
Wynn was 17 years old and newly graduated from high school when the Allies began the massive invasion known as D-Day on June 6, 1944.
Her older brother, Donald Parsons, had enlisted, but the family had no idea where he was serving.
A month later, Wynn was preparing to leave for California to join her father working at the Kaiser shipyards in Richmond.
“I was just getting ready to come out here when we saw a shiny new car coming up the driveway,” she recalled. “Nobody had shiny cars in those days, so we knew it was bad news.”
A man and a woman delivered the news that her brother, Donald Parsons, had been killed.
“But we didn’t know it was Normandy,” she said.
It took 75 years for Wynn to finally get a chance to see where the great battle against Nazi forces took place and the grave where her brother was buried.
A guide took her to the white cross at her brother’s grave, gave Wynn a handful of sand and told her to rub it across his engraved name, making it visible.
“It kind of put an end to everything,” Wynn said. “Now I’ve been there and seen it and know where he is, so it kind of put closure to that.”
While she was at the podium, “The French president wanted to know my thoughts as I was standing at the grave,” Wynn said. “I said I thought he shouldn’t be here if he had taken a deferment they offered, but he chose to go because everybody was doing their duty and he thought serving was the right thing to do.”
The delegation of five Rosies were interviewed and featured in news stories during their two-week visit.
“They remember. They’re very sincere,” said Marian Sousa, who lives in El Sobrante and, like Wynn, is a volunteer docent giving popular weekly talks at the visitors center of the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond.
“Everything showed that the people in Normandy really appreciated what our guys did,” Sousa said. “It was moving to look out on that vast expanse and see all those white crosses.”
A highlight was a parade reenacting the arrival of Allied forces in town.
“We got to ride in a jeep during the parade,” Sousa said. “Everybody was flashing the V for Victory sign, waving flags and hanging out of windows. I was surprised to see so many people in 1940s uniforms. Everybody wanted to be a GI.”
The idea for the trip came from a couple from France who stopped at the Richmond visitors center on their way to Hawaii.
The couple, who buy and sell war-era jeeps, asked Wynn if she had ever been to her brother’s grave. Wynn said she hadn’t and the couple undertook fundraising in Europe to help make the journey a reality.
Tammy Brumley, a longtime helper to the Rosies at the Richmond park, started a GoFundMe page to raise more for the two-week trip to France in time for the national D-Day ceremony.
“It was an incredible experience,” Brumley said. “It’s hard to put into words the adulation the French have for the soldiers.”
* Wynn and her fellow Rosies will be on hand at the Rosie Rally Home Front Festival in Richmond on Aug. 10.