Amid hundreds of children and adults waiving and taking photos through a fence at the small airport, a C-17 Globemaster III aircrew from March Air Reserve Base was welcomed to Cherbourg, France, to fulfill their mission of bringing more than 100 Army paratroopers home after their participation in the 71st D-Day remembrance ceremonies held throughout Normandy, France, Festivities in the region began May 24, with the majority of events occurring between June 3-8 and the final ceremony honoring the Air Force’s 358th Fighter Group, concluding July 11.
More than 300 paratroopers participated in static line jumps and were featured in various ceremonies and parades during the week-long celebration in France.
Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Herbert Bailey flew with the C-17 crew on invitational travel authority because of his close ties to the Association Picauville Se Souvient, which translates to Picauville Remembers, where Bailey is an honorary member.
“Picauville is pretty much an epicenter of combat in terms of the airborne and the airborne invasion,” he said.
Five military aircraft crashed in the area and the society created a memorial to honor the memory and sacrifice of the service members who perished.
Bailey became involved with the Association in 2004, when he met Denis Dennebouy, founder and president of Picauville Remembers. They quickly became friends and Bailey was amazed at how pure the Association was in its intent to preserve the memory of what transpired so many years ago, he said.
“Their whole being in this society is to perpetuate the liberation, the war and the people who died to the children so the children don’t forget,” Bailey said. “Once the next generation forgets, it’s done, nobody else is going to remember and that’s the significance of the name, Picauville Remembers.”
Years after they met, Dennebouy requested a flyover from Bailey who was an Air Reserve Technician at Charleston Air Force Base, S.C. He referred Dennebouy to March ARB and in 2007, a C-17 from March flew over Normandy to commemorate the 63rd anniversary of the invasion.
Lt. Cols. Keith Guillotte and Mike Fick were two who piloted those flyovers. They were excited to be able to fly this mission back to France, interact with a thankful community and re-connect with old friends, Guillotte said.
During the short time the crew was in France they attended a parade in Sainte-Mere-Eglise, featuring U.S., French and German service members, where the mayor personally thanked the U.S. military.
“We are overjoyed to express and re-express our gratitude,” the mayor said. “Their sacrifice was monumental. Many of their friends gave their lives. It was not in vain. The mission was accomplished, and all we can say to them is thank you.”
The mayor’s gratitude was evident throughout the short visit, as locales and others approached Soldiers and Airmen to say thanks.
Marla Coloma, who lives in Spain and whose mother was American, shook the hands of U.S. service members and thanked them for their service. Her grandmother was a U.S. military nurse during the war and Coloma was dressed in her grandmother’s uniform. She said she and her husband travel to France every year to honor her grandmother, remember those who sacrificed their lives and thank service members for their contribution to freedom.
Sgt. First Class Mike Lewis, paratrooper, 82nd Airborne Division, participated in D-Day events for the first time in his 18-year career as a paratrooper, and said he was amazed at the welcome and support the French people had for the U.S. military.
“Never in my life, have I ever had to turn down so many drinks,” he said. “They were so grateful.”
After the parade the aircrew was driven to Picauville to meet members of Picauville Remembers. During the drive they were taken to several points of interest in the area, including the memorial to the Battle of La Fiere, the Picauville Memorial, and the road named after famed paratrooper, Cpl. Jack Schlegal.
“This is probably the best trip I’ve ever been on,” said Lt. Col. Andres Hau, commander, 729th Airlift Squadron. As a history buff, it’s been amazing to be able to see some of the sites, and the hospitality of the French people has been wonderful,” he said.
After the whirlwind tour of the area, the French treated the Americans to dinner and a ceremony to thank Bailey and the entire aircrew for their service, and for spending the day experiencing the events and historical sites.
Before leaving, Guillotte thanked the society on behalf of the March crew for making them feel so welcomed, and Bailey presented Dennebouy with a framed lithograph, drawn by Bailey, as a token of appreciation for his impact in preserving the past for future generations.
“Our thanks from us, for his efforts to perpetuate the memories of people he never knew, but who died so they could have the freedom to live like they used to and still do now,” Bailey said. “You have indeed chosen the right name for your society. I will never forget.”
(Read more about the Special Operations Forces commemorative high-altitude, low-opening jump over Mont Saint-Michele, France, at www.af.mil.)