World War II veterans travel to France to commemorate 80th anniversary of D-Day

More than 60 World War II veterans took off Friday from Dallas to France, where they will participate in ceremonies marking the 80th anniversary of D-Day.

The group ranges in age from 96 to 107, according to American Airlines, which first flew them to Paris. The flight is one among several who take veterans to France for the commemoration.

The group will participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Suresnes American Cemetery, visit the Eiffel Tower and join a daily ceremony known as Rekindling the Flame, which honors fallen French service members at Arc of Triumph.

World War II veteran Martin Sylvester is helped at the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport in Dallas, Texas, May 31, 2024. A group of World War II veterans are being flown from Texas to France where they will participate in the ceremonies marking the 80th anniversary of D-Day.

LM Otero/AP

They then head to the Normandy region for events including wreath-laying ceremonies on Omaha and Utah beaches, two of the landing sites for the Allied forces.

Nearly 160,000 allied soldiers, including 73,000 Americans, landed in Normandy On June 6, 1944, during a massive amphibious operation intended to break through heavily fortified German defenses and begin the liberation of Western Europe.

A total of 4,415 Allied soldiers were killed on D-Day, according to the Necrology Project, including approximately 2,500 Americans. More than 5,000 people were injured.

The group from Dallas includes six Medal of Honor recipients from the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam who want to honor World War II veterans.

There are also two Rosie the Riveters, representing the women who worked in factories and shipyards during the war.

Hundreds of thousands of servicewomen from allied nations also served in crucial positions outside of combat, such as codebreakers, ship plotters, radar operators, and cartographers.

Various ceremonies are organized in France to commemorate this day and thank veterans, some of whom will undertake the long transatlantic journey despite their advanced age, fatigue and physical difficulties.

“We will never forget. And we have to tell them,” Philippe Étienne, president of the commemoration organizer, Mission Libération, told the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, with approximately 100,000 American World War II veterans still alive, the National World War II Museum in New Orleans is working to preserve their memory.

To reach new generations, the museum sends lesson plans to schools across the country and offers immersive exhibitions, such as the one on the Pacific War.

“I think this story is vital for them going forward,” Michael Arvites, a teacher at Holy Cross High School in New Orleans, told CBS News. “In a constantly changing world, there are new and old threats. »

Steve Ellis served on an invasion landing craft in the Pacific during World War II and recently shared his stories with seniors at Holy Cross High.

“In your first fight, do you remember being nervous, or do you feel like your training had prepared you for that moment, or what were your feelings at that moment? » asked a student.

“For me, and I think for most of my contemporaries, when we’re in combat, no, not nervous at all, we’re just doing our job,” Ellis responded.

Barry Petersen contributed to this report.

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