D-Day Hero Bill Gladden Passes Away, Fails to Fulfill Final Salute Journey

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In the heart of London, a city replete with storied heroes, one it cherished dearly fell silent. British army veteran Bill Gladden, a resilient centenarian, primarily known amongst his kinsman for surviving a glider landing during the infamous D-Day and courageously living through an ankle wound inflicted by a bullet just days following, had a fervent desire to embark on a return journey to France for the 80th anniversary of the invasion. Gladden had planned the trip to pay his final respects to his fallen comrades who, unlike him, didn’t make it home.

Regrettably, his voyage was not to materialize.

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Gladden, 100 years old at the time of his death, stood amongst the steadily diminishing assemblage of veterans who took part in the vanguard landings that initiated the campaign to emancipate Western Europe from the clutches of the Nazis during World War II. His family mournfully confirmed his passing on that recent Wednesday.

Evidently enfeebled by cancer, Gladden had been unyielding in his determination to traverse back to Normandy for the D-Day commemorations scheduled for that year. With an increasingly thinning pool of veterans able to partake in the ceremony each year, the event had potential to be one of the last major remembrance functions of the assault that marked commencement on June 6,1944.

Born on January 13, 1924, Gladden was brought up in the Woolwich area of southeast London, where his mother supported the household through employment at the adjacent Royal Arsenal during World War I, and his father earned his stripes as a soldier. Following his father’s path, Gladden enlisted in the army at 18 and was later assigned to the 6th Airborne Reconnaissance Regiment as a motorcycle dispatch rider.

On D-Day, gliding over the front lines with six motorcycles and a 17,000-pound tank on board a wooden vessel, Gladden was part of a heroic operation tasked with securing bridges over the River Orne and Caen Canal, facilitating the foray of Allied forces further inland from the beaches. With a makeshift base in an orchard outside the village of Ranville, Gladden devoted 12 days to exploratory ventures into the surrounding landscape to scrutinize reports of enemy dynamics.

In an orchestration of deeply interconnected events, Gladden carried two wounded soldiers into a barn repurposed as a field hospital on June 16. Just two days later, he found himself confined to that very hospital after machine gun fire from a German tank shattered his right ankle, sentencing him to three years of hospital stays and various surgeries.

In the aftermath of the war, Gladden married an army driver, Marie Warne, whom he met in 1943 and enjoyed a 40-year-long career with Siemens and Pearl Insurance. He is survived by their daughter, Linda, and her husband, Kenny.

Permeated through with tales of gallantry, Gladden’s wartime memoirs were preserved in a meticulously tended scrapbook with newspaper clippings about “the tanks that were built to fly,” representational drawings of glider landings, and more precious relics. He personally stitched his unit’s shoulder insignia into parachute silk, a memento left by a paratrooper, during a stay in the very hospital accepting his wounded comrades.

Despite birthday festivities in January, Gladden harbored thoughts of embarking on a trip back to Normandy, to honor his compatriots, most poignantly, the two soldiers he carried into that barn 80 years ago. They hadn’t made it.

His niece Kaye Thorpe’s spouse, Alan remarked solemnly, “He wanted to go to pay his respects. I’d like to believe he’s with them now. And that he’s paying his respects in person.” Indeed, the unbreakable spirit of an old soldier lives on, encapsulated in his gratitude and homage to his comrades.