U.S., British service members honor French village for D‑Day support

PICAUVILLE, France (AFNS) — Air Force reservists and oth­er U.S. and allied mil­i­tary mem­bers paid their respects to the peo­ple of this small French vil­lage June 1 as part of a num­ber of cer­e­monies rec­og­niz­ing the 68th anniver­sary of the Nor­mandy D‑Day inva­sion.

U.S. Air Force graph­ic, photo/Staff Sgt. Stephen J. Col­lier
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Air­men from the Air Force Reserve Command’s 302nd, 910th and 440th Air­lift Wings, led by Maj. Gen. Wal­lace Far­ris Jr., as well as mem­bers of the Army’s 173rd 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 togeth­er with local res­i­dents in the village’s sports com­plex to break bread as well as share sto­ries and even crack a few jokes.

“We are ded­i­cat­ed to remem­ber­ing the sac­ri­fices of the Air­men and U.S. Army Sol­diers who lib­er­at­ed us,” said Eric Labour­dette, the com­mu­ni­ca­tion man­ag­er for Picauville Remem­bers, a group that vol­un­teers to main­tain the her­itage and remem­brance of the community’s D‑Day ties, specif­i­cal­ly their assis­tance to allied ser­vice mem­bers whose air­craft crashed in the area. “We help ensure the Troop Car­ri­er Mon­u­ment here in Picauville stands as a remem­brance to those U.S. mil­i­tary who gave their lives for France.”

After music, food and even a lit­tle wine, Far­ris and oth­er Air Force reservists pre­sent­ed Picauville May­or Philippe Chris­tine with a cus­tom “shad­ow box” — a col­lec­tion of Air Force memen­tos unique to each of the wings rep­re­sent­ed. Chris­tine said it’s impor­tant to con­tin­ue host­ing events like this “because the sto­ry is impor­tant.”

“The fact that men died here for our lib­er­ty … it’s the most impor­tant thing for us to keep the mem­o­ry (alive) and to say to our chil­dren what are the facts with his­to­ry and what impor­tance the land­ing of (the) U.S. Army (had) to give us our lib­er­ty,” the may­or said.

The may­or high­light­ed the unique rela­tion­ship the U.S. shares with France, going back to the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion and France’s com­mit­ment to the new nation. He said the U.S.’ lib­er­a­tion of France only cement­ed the nations unique ties.

Ear­li­er in the day, active duty Air­men from Ram­stein Air Base, Ger­many, took part in a remem­brance cer­e­mo­ny in Picauville’s town square. The gath­er­ing brought out more than 200 local res­i­dents, World War II re-enac­tors and chil­dren from a near­by school who lit one can­dle each for those men who gave their lives for free­dom after being brought down in the Picauville area.

Main­tain­ing the unique rela­tion­ship the Air Force Reserve has with this town of 2,008 peo­ple, thou­sands of miles away, helps keep the fight­ing spir­it of D‑Day alive year after year offi­cials said. Sev­er­al orga­ni­za­tions in the Air Force Reserve that exist­ed in the ear­ly 1940s took part in aer­i­al oper­a­tions against the Nazi war machine, but it was the 440th AW that main­tains a direct link to the first Amer­i­can boots that touched French soil.

Late on June 5, 1944, C‑47 Sky­train air­craft assigned to the then-440th Troop Car­ri­er Group took off from Exeter, Eng­land. On board those trans­ports were 101st Air­borne para­troop­ers head­ing direct­ly for the hedge groves of Nor­mandy. The unique her­itage of the 440th AW to the D‑Day cer­e­monies isn’t lost on the Air­men assigned to the wing today, nor on Far­ris, who com­mands 22nd Air Force, the orga­ni­za­tion that over­sees wings like the 440th AW.

“It makes you feel good to be an Amer­i­can,” said Far­ris, com­ment­ing on the hos­pi­tal­i­ty of Picauville res­i­dents. “But it makes me feel good for the men and women who sac­ri­ficed their lives to free France. The vet­er­ans who were here today, it means a lot to them as well. We’re all able to remem­ber those Amer­i­cans and what they did here 68 years ago.”

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 has­n’t escaped him.

“Think about the C‑47 pilots who flew into very ardu­ous con­di­tions: the weath­er was­n’t the best, you have to ‘jeek’ and ‘jive’ to get to the tar­get, you had a hard time find­ing the tar­get, you had to deal with the flak and you’re watch­ing your fel­low brethren get shot down at the same time,” he said. “You think about that and you try to mea­sure your­self up and being able to main­tain a track to the drop zone … I’ve thought about that a few times.”

And for Chris­tine, he said he is con­fi­dent hav­ing events like this will ensure no one in his com­mu­ni­ty, espe­cial­ly those young school chil­dren, will for­get what tran­spired on June 6, 1944.

“Even in the cer­e­mo­ny, we have (a) mag­nif­i­cent exhi­bi­tion, but not spec­tac­u­lar for the cin­e­ma, not the sto­ry, but for the mem­o­ry, ” he said. “And when you are a child, it’s also spec­tac­u­lar.”

The anniver­sary events cul­mi­nat­ed for the Air Force on June 3 when they dropped more than 350 allied para­troop­ers from sev­er­al air­craft, bring­ing alive once again the her­itage of the U.S. Air Force.

U.S. Air Force