Remembering a Unique Band of Brothers on Veterans Day

Vantage Travel Team November 8, 2017

As the bus pulled up to the American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, France, Robert Ullery was unsure whether or not he could summon the strength to get out of the motorcoach. The 90-year-old World War II veteran from upstate New York had visited the sacred site twice before. The first time was during the cemetery’s dedication ceremony in 1956 when he served as a trumpet player in the U.S. Army band. Ullery played the anthems of all the Allied nations, whose men had fought their way onto the beaches during the D-Day invasion. He played that day for visiting dignitaries, but mostly for the 9,385 Americans buried there. The final resting places of these men were marked by wooden stakes planted into a muddy field at that time. The memories of the dedication ceremony, and the sacrifices made by all those who offered their lives at the doorstep of freedom have never left him.

Ullery’s second visit came after his retirement. But this time, he could not get off the tour bus. The emotions he felt were too overwhelming. He did not give up however. Instead, he traveled back to this hallowed ground a week ago with Vantage Deluxe World Travel and he was not alone. There were other veterans on that bus and they were much younger than him. The nineteen men were wounded Israeli soldiers from an organization called Brothers for Life, which provides support for those struggling from physical and psychological wounds suffered in battle.

The Brothers for Life veterans had been invited as our special guests for the 2017 Vantage Heroes Program. Our company has provided similar free trips to American combat veterans as well as survivors of the Boston Marathon Bombings and families of 9/11 victims over the past several years. 

We wanted to open it up to international groups this year, groups that have helped protect not only their own countries, but the United States as well. But we didn’t understand the impact it would have.

For Robert Ullery, the impact was immediate.

“I felt so comfortable around these boys,” he said. “There’s an indescribable connection between veterans no matter how old we are or what country we come from. We all speak the same language.”         

This comfort level allowed Ullery to step off that bus for the first time since 1956. The American Cemetery had changed much since then, the bleak wooden stakes replaced by gravestones of glistening white. But the feeling of being there remained the same for him. This was not a place to celebrate, but to reflect and pray.

As Ullery prayed, his Israeli brothers from Brothers for Life prayed also. One veteran remarked that he could “smell the battlefield” and that sense brought back stark memories of his own combat experiences in Lebanon and other dangerous places. Another quietly acknowledged that his father was the only member of his family to have survived the Holocaust. The Israelis prayed at many of the 149 Jewish graves and joined Ullery in laying down a special wreath offering a heartfelt thank you from the people of Israel.

It was an opportunity to honor all veterans around the world who believe in peace and are called upon to fight for freedom. Robert Ullery gained strength that day from 19 strangers, men he'll never forget.