Honorable Few – Capt. J.J. Harris

Marine Corps League Detachment #1302

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

CARENTAN-LES-MARAIS, France — Parachutists jumping from World War II-era planes hurled themselves Sunday into now peaceful Normandy skies where war once raged, heralding a week of ceremonies for the fast-disappearing generation of Allied troops who fought from D-Day beaches 80 years ago to Adolf Hitler’s fall, helping free Europe of his tyranny.

All along the Normandy coastline — where then-young soldiers from across the United States, Britain, Canada and other Allied nations waded ashore through hails of fire on five beaches on June 6, 1944 — French officials, grateful Normandy survivors and other admirers are saying “merci” but also goodbye.

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The ever-dwindling number of veterans in their late nineties and older who are coming back to remember fallen friends and their history-changing exploits are the last.

Part of the purpose of fireworks shows, parachute jumps, solemn commemorations and ceremonies that world leaders will attend this week is to pass the baton of remembrance to the current generations now seeing war again in Europe in Ukraine. U.S. President Joe Biden, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and British royals are among the VIPs that France is expecting for the D-Day events.

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.

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The planes looped around and dropped another three sticks of jumpers. Some of the loudest applause from the crowd arose when a startled deer pounced from the undergrowth as the jumpers were landing and sprinted across the landing zone.

After a final pass to drop two last jumpers, the planes then roared overhead in close formation and disappeared over the horizon.

Dozens of World War II veterans are converging on France to revisit old memories, make new ones, and hammer home a message that survivors of D-Day and the ensuing Battle of Normandy, and of other World War II theaters, have repeated time and time again — that war is hell.

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

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

The youngest veteran in the group is 96 and the most senior 107, according to their carrier from Dallas, American Airlines.

“We did our job and we came home and that’s it. We never talked about it I think. For 70 years I didn’t talk about it,” said another of the veterans, 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 aircraft “a big, big chunk of the beach with thousands of vessels,” and spoke of bombing raids against German strongholds and routes that German forces might otherwise have used to rush in reinforcements to push the invasion back into the sea.

“I dropped my first bomb at 06:58 a.m. in a heavy gun placement,” he said. “We went back home, we landed at 09:30. We reloaded.”

Associated Press writer Jeffrey Schaeffer in Paris contributed to this report.