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After 80 Years the D-Day Flame of Remembrance Still Burns

Europe's liberation from tyranny began on the Normandy beaches.

The iconic grainy black-and-white film of US soldiers trudging onto Omaha Beach in Normandy, France – one, then another being cut down by German bullets – is an indelible image of D-Day, June 6, 1944. As each year passes, the number of D-Day survivors to honor grows smaller. Yet this year, on the 80th anniversary, the celebrations seem to have grown in number.

D-Day – The Largest Amphibious and Air Invasion in History

The skies over Normandy and the beaches on which hundreds of thousands of infantry, armor, and artillery troops passed would occasion many firsts. On June 2, 2024, three World War II-era C-47s dropped paratroopers in lines of billowing parachute canopies to start the commemorative events. On this day, the event symbolized the brave airborne troops who hit the silk before dawn and assembled behind German lines. As Military Times described:

“On Sunday, three C-47 transport planes, a workhorse of the war, dropped three long strings of jumpers, their round chutes mushrooming open in the blue skies with puffy white clouds, to whoops from the huge crowd that was regaled by tunes from Glenn Miller and Edith Piaf as they waited. The planes looped around and dropped another three sticks of jumpers … After a final pass to drop two last jumpers, the planes then roared overhead in close formation and disappeared over the horizon.”

Eighty years ago, the number of troop carrier aircraft was far larger. The darkened early-morning skies were overcast with hundreds of Douglas C-47s and gliders. By the end of the first day, according to a National Air and Space Museum account, more than 18,000 soldiers of the US 82nd and 101st Airborne Division, as well as the 6th Airborne Division of the British forces, were on French soil. The invaders landed behind Utah Beach and Sword Beach to engage strategic targets supporting the amphibious landings. This year, the audience at Normandy got to see a microcosmic view of what the operation looked like.

To commemorate the movement of troops from landing craft to positions on the Normandy beaches, US Marines and French troops were invited to demonstrate an amphibious assault of Omaha and Utah beaches. “The Marines and sailors landing at Normandy will come from the dock landing ship USS Oak Hill, on which the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit is currently embarked, said Capt. Clayton Doss, a spokesman for U.S. Naval Forces Europe – Africa. They will come ashore on Landing Craft, Utility boats,” Task and Purpose reported. Those participating included more than 300 sailors from the cruiser USS Normandy as well as 100 French troops hitting the beaches from the French amphibious assault ship Mistral. In addition to the demonstrations starting on Saturday, June 1, 20 large fireworks displays lit up “the sky simultaneously over the 5 Landing Beaches [code named UTAH, OMAHA, GOLD, JUNO, and SWORD],” the official Normandy brochure explained.

There will be six authorized ceremonies, with the official international ceremony, including heads of state, held June 6 on Omaha Beach. Other events will commemorate the sacrifices of the civilians caught in the fighting at Saint-Lô; Franco-American and Franco-Canadian Ceremonies at Colleville-sur-Mer and Courseulles-sur-Mer, respectively; a ceremony with the US president in Cherbourg on June 7, and the Bayeux Liberation Ceremony with French President Emmanuel Macron at Bayeux. As is fitting, many speeches will salute the heroism and sacrifice of allied soldiers who came ashore in France to free Europe of the scourge of the Nazi occupiers. But as always, a special time is set aside for the D-Day veterans of Operation Overlord and those who fought in World War II.

Stars and Stripes described the scene as the World War II veterans arrived for the D-Day commemorative events:

“After a roaring sendoff from enthusiastic well-wishers, World War II veterans flew Saturday to Paris to pay homage to the thousands of fellow Americans who perished in the fight to liberate Europe from Nazism. ‘By serving your country you have liberated ours,’ France’s former ambassador to the US, Philippe Etienne, told the nearly 70 ‘Greatest Generation’ veterans in a small but enthusiastic reception at Charles de Gaulle airport.”

The bravery and dedication to service displayed by soldiers of all stripes and backgrounds in carrying out their duties on D-Day and throughout World War II brought Europe out of its darkest days. As Ambassador Etienne so aptly promised, “The flame of remembrance must never be extinguished.”

 The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliate.

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