PICAUVILLE, France â€“ U.S. Air Force reservists, active duty military members and Allied military members, paid their respects to the people of a small French village, on June 1. This event was part of a number of ceremonies recognizing the 68th Anniversary of the Normandy D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944.
Reservists from the 302d, 910th and 440th Airlift Wings, led by Maj. Gen. William â€œWadeâ€ Farris, Jr., active duty members of the 173d Airborne Brigade Combat Team and British paratroopers, marched through the village where they laid a wreath in remembrance of those Airmen and Soldiers who paid the ultimate price in liberating Europe. Later, service members joined with local residents in the villageâ€™s sports complex to break bread, share stories and even crack a few jokes.
â€œWe are dedicated to remembering the sacrifices of the Airmen and Soldiers who liberated us,â€ said Eric Labourdette, communication manager for Picauville Remembers, a group that volunteers to maintain the heritage and remembrance of the communityâ€™s D-Day ties, specifically for Allied aircraft that crashed in the area. â€œWe help to ensure the Troop Carrier Monument here in Picauville stands as a remembrance to those U.S. military who gave their lives for France.â€
After music, food and drink, Farris and other reservists presented, Philippe Christine, Picauville mayor, with a custom â€œshadow box,â€ which comprised a collection of Air Force mementos unique to each of the wings represented. Christine said it is important to continue hosting events like this â€œbecause the story is important.â€
â€œThe fact that men died here for our liberty,â€ the mayor said, â€œis the most important memory to keep alive.â€ We must let our children know about this time in history and how important the landing of the U.S. Army was, to give us our liberty,â€ the mayor said.
The mayor highlighted the unique relationship between the U.S. and France, going back to the American Revolution and Franceâ€™s commitment to the new nation. He said the U.S. liberation of France cemented the nationâ€™s unique ties.
In a display of additional support, Airmen from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, also took part in a remembrance ceremony in Picauvilleâ€™s town square. The gathering brought out more than 200 local residents. World War II re-enactors and children from a nearby school lit candles for the each American who lost their lives for freedom after being brought down in the Picauville area.
Maintaining the unique relationship between the town of 2,008 residents and reservists, helps keep the fighting spirit of D-Day alive year after year. Several organizations in the Reserves that existed in the early 1940s, took part in aerial operations against the German war machine, but it was the 440th AW that maintained a direct link to the first American boots that touched French soil.
In June 1944, C-47 â€œSkytrainâ€ aircraft assigned to the 440th Troop Carrier Group, took off from Exeter, England, late on June 5, with the 101st Airborne paratroopers, heading directly for the hedge groves of Normandy.
The unique heritage of the 440th AW to the D-Day ceremonies wonâ€™t be lost with the Airmen assigned to the wing today, nor Farris, who commands 22nd Air Force, the organization that oversees wings like the 440th.
â€œIt makes you feel good to be an American,â€ said Farris, commenting on the hospitality of Picauville residents. â€œBut thereâ€™s a greater sense of gratitude that I have for the men and women who sacrificed their lives to free France. For the veterans who were here today, it means a lot to them as well. Weâ€™re all able to remember those brave soldiers and what they did here 68 years ago.â€
Farris, who has flown transport aircraft like the C-130 Hercules for more than 11 years, said the thought of flying a C-47 into the conditions pilots did on D-Day is something that hasnâ€™t escaped him.
â€œThink about the C-47 pilots who flew into very arduous conditions. The weather wasnâ€™t the best, you have to â€˜jukeâ€™ and â€˜jiveâ€™ to get to the target, you had a hard time finding the target, you had to deal with the flak and youâ€™re watching your fellow brethren get shot down at the same time. You think about that and you try to measure yourself up and being able to maintain a track to the drop zone … Yes, Iâ€™ve thought about that a few times.â€
As for Christine, heâ€™s confident having events like this will ensure no one in his community, especially those young school children, ever forgets what transpired here on June 6, 1944.
The anniversary events will culminate for the Air Force on June 3, when (more than) 350 Allied paratroopers deploy from several aircraft, bringing alive once again the heritage of the U.S. Air Force.