A bronze bust of a Penobscot Nation tribal elder who stormed the beach on D-Day will be installed in Normandy, France.

The Charles Shay Indian Memorial will be placed at Omaha Beach on Saturday in honor of the World War II veteran, the Bangor Daily News reported.

Shay served as a combat medic and is credited with saving soldiers from drowning on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

Charles Norman Shay

World War II D-Day veteran Charles Norman Shay, a Penobscot elder from Maine, poses on the dune overlooking Omaha Beach prior to a 2019 ceremony. Associated Press/Virginia Mayo

Shay treated wounded soldiers at the battles of Aachen, Huertgen Forest, and at the Battle of the Bulge. Shay was captured by German soldiers and held as a prisoner of war.

“It’s a remarkable tribute,” said Matthew Dunlap, Maine’s secretary of state. He got to know Shay pretty well about 20 years ago, when Dunlap was a legislator whose district included Indian Island near Old Town.

“Charles Shay was in the first wave at Omaha Beach, which was where the worst of the fighting was,” Dunlap told the Portland Press Herald. “He was just a kid, he saved a lot of lives and he’s humble about it. It’s really awe-inspiring.”


Dunlap noted that the honor of a bronze bust is an uncommon recognition for a soldier on the front lines.

“Charles Shay wasn’t a general,” Dunlap said. “He was a medic doing a job and he did some extraordinary things in extraordinary circumstances.”

Shay has been awarded the Bronze Star, the Silver star, as well as the French Legion of Honor in 2007.

A turtle sculpture unveiled in 2017 and designed by Shay’s nephew Tim Shay will accompany the bust in the park. Turtles are sacred animals in the Penobscot tradition and represent wisdom and longevity.

The bust was scheduled to be officially unveiled June 5, one day before the 76th anniversary of D-Day. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the ceremony has been rescheduled to 2021.

Portland Press Herald Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard contributed to this story.

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