Parachute jump over Normandy kicks off commemorations of 80th anniversary of D-Day

Paratroopers jumping from World War II-era planes rushed Sunday into the now-peaceful Normandy skies where war once raged, heralding a week of ceremonies for the fast-disappearing generation of Allied troops who have fought since the landing beaches 80 years ago until the fall of Adolf Hitler. , helping to free Europe from its tyranny.

All along the Normandy coast – where young soldiers from the United States, Britain, Canada and other allied countries landed under hail of gunfire on five beaches on June 6, 1944 – French officials, grateful Norman survivors and other admirers say “thank you” but also goodbye.

The ever-increasing number of veterans over the age of 90 who are returning to remember their fallen friends and their history-changing exploits is the latest.

Watching the coast of southern England recede on Sunday through the windows of one of the three C-47 transport planes that flew him and other jumpers across the Channel to their Normandy drop zone, c t was like traveling back in time to D-Day for a 63-year-old man. Neil Hamsler, former British Army paratrooper.

“I thought that would have been the last view of England that some of those guys from 1944 had,” he said. While it was a daybreak Sunday, unlike the Allied airborne troops who jumped night early on D-Day, and “nobody’s shooting at us,” Hamsler said, “It really got me brought home, the poignancy. »

The fireworks, parachute jumps, solemn commemorations and ceremonies that world leaders will attend this week are intended in particular to pass the baton of remembrance to current generations who are once again seeing war in Europe, in Ukraine. US President Joe Biden, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the British royal family are among the VIPs France is expecting for the D-Day events.

Looping one after the other, the C-47s dropped chains of jumpers – 70 in all, dressed in World War II-style uniforms. Their round falls opened like mushrooms in the blue sky with puffy white clouds. A huge crowd, several thousand people, shouted and applauded, having been entertained while waiting by the tunes of Glenn Miller and Edith Piaf. Some of the loudest cheers were for a startled deer that leapt from the undergrowth as the jumpers landed and sprinted through the drop zone.

Two of the planes, named “That’s All, Brother” and “Placid Lassie,” were D-Day veterans, among the thousands of C-47s and other planes that, on June 6, 1944, were part of what was the largest plane never made. maritime, air and land armada. Allied airborne forces, which included troops making breathtaking descents in gliders, landed first early on D-Day to secure roads, bridges and other strategic points inside the invasion beaches and destroy the locations. of cannons that raked the sand and ships with deadly fire.

The planes took off from Duxford, England, on Sunday for a 90-minute flight to Carentan. The Normandy town was at the heart of the D-Day drop zones in 1944, when paratroopers jumped into the darkness under fire, many dispersing far from their objectives.

Sunday’s paratroopers were part of an international civilian team of paratroopers, many of whom were former soldiers. The only woman was Dawna Bennett, 61, who felt the force of history as she stepped off her plane into the Normandy skies.

“It’s the same door and it’s the same countryside from 80 years ago, and it’s like, ‘Oh my God, I’m so grateful I’m not doing this at midnight,'” she said. -she declared. “They keep saying this is the best generation and I truly believe that.”

Dozens of World War II veterans are converging on France to revisit old memories, create new ones and hammer home a message that survivors of D-Day and the subsequent Battle of Normandy, as well as other theaters of the Second World War, have repeated many times. once again, this war is hell.

“Seven thousand of my fellow sailors were killed. Twenty thousand shot, wounded, put on ships, buried at sea,” said Don Graves, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served on Iwo Jima in the Pacific theater.

“I want the young people, the younger generation here to know what we did,” said Graves, who was part of a group of more than 60 World War II veterans who visited Paris on Saturday .

The youngest veteran in the group is 96 and the oldest is 107, according to their Dallas airline, American Airlines.

“We did our job and came home and that’s it. We never talked about it, I think. For 70 years, I didn’t talk about it,” said another veteran, Ralph Goldsticker, a U.S. Air Force captain who served in the 452nd Bomb Group.

Of the D-Day landings, he recalled seeing from his plane “a very large part of the beach with thousands of ships” and spoke of bombing German strongholds and routes that German forces might otherwise have used to rush for reinforcements. push the invasion back into the sea.

“I dropped my first bomb at 6:58 a.m. during a heavy weapons placement,” he said. “We returned home, we landed at 9:30 a.m. We reloaded.

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