The historic journey began on May 31 in Delta’s hometown of Atlanta, with a parade through Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport’s international terminal. More than 40 veterans returned this year, up from 29 in 2022.
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For the second year in a row, more than 40 World War II veterans embarked on a Delta charter flight to Normandy, France, where they spent the week visiting memorials, attending ceremonies in their honor, and sharing stories from the time they and their comrades spent in the war 79 years ago.

While last year’s inaugural program laid solid groundwork for this year’s success, the mission took on a significantly larger task, returning more than 40 WWII veterans, up from 29 in 2022. This grand undertaking was made possible by the power of Delta’s corporate partnerships, particularly with Best Defense Foundation, founded in 2018 by Donnie and Kathryn Edwards, and Michelin.

True to “No One Better Connects the World,” the idea for the charter was formed when Delta Enterprise Sales Manager and Normandy Native, Virginie Durr, discovered a shared connection and passion for Normandy and our WWII veterans with David Chapman — Michelin Vice President of Public Affairs. Because time is of the essence for our WWII veterans, partnering with the Best Defense Foundation, a nonprofit organization specialized in returning veterans to battlefields, was the perfect solution to make the program bigger and more accessible for the Greatest Generation.

The historic journey began on May 31 in Delta’s hometown of Atlanta, with a parade through Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport’s international terminal. The Dutchtown High School Band, which was also selected to represent the state of Georgia and play in Normandy for the commemoration ceremony, gave a rousing performance. From customers to TSA agents, the entire terminal was left in tears while waving bon voyage to the heroes eager to board the charter.

A water cannon salute honors World War II veterans on their journey to Normandy to commemorate the 79th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.
A water cannon salute honors World War II veterans on their journey to Normandy to commemorate the 79th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.

In addition to providing the veterans with the opportunity to pay tribute and say farewell to the comrades and friends they lost in Normandy, they witnessed the gratitude so many still have for their liberators 79 years later.

Army veteran Tom Lacey and his caretaker, Air Force veteran and Atlanta-based 717 Capt. Brandon Williams, wave to fans at a parade in Carentan.

Everywhere in Normandy, the veterans were surrounded by thousands of adoring fans of all ages from every corner of the world, hoping for a chance to thank one of their heroes. One father traveled to Normandy from Spain for the D-Day commemorations to “show (his) children why they don’t speak German today.”

Walter Ruf salutes World War II Army veteran Andy Negra. Walter drove 11 hours to Normandy from Germany to thank a veteran for liberating his homeland and saving his mother, who faced execution under Nazi rule due to a heart condition.

“One veteran told us, ‘Here I’m treated like a king, and at home I’m just an old man,’” said Amanda Thompson, Executive Director of the Best Defense Foundation.

Delta S.V.P. of Global Sales Bob Somers joined this year’s program to see firsthand the unforgettable experience this partnership between Delta, the Best Defense Foundation and our Corporate Customers has created. “Many of them have never been back,” Somers said. “To see their faces light up, it’s just incredibly humbling.”

Army veteran Jack Myers enjoyed seeing familiar WWII tanks and other artifacts at a military restoration center.

At Delta, we believe one of the most important ways to honor our veterans is through education to ensure their stories and sacrifices are never forgotten. Delta, Michelin, the Best Defense Foundation and the Consulate of France in Atlanta selected eight next-generation students from the U.S., Brazil and France to join the program and learn directly from their liberators.

Students in Bayeux welcome the veterans with a parade for their highly anticipated school visit.

In addition to team members on the ground in Normandy, including volunteer caretakers from Delta's Veterans Business Resource Group to our international team members in Europe, Delta people from every department and division came together to make this program successful. Volunteers across the organization from Europe and the U.S. worked to provide the best experience possible for the guests of honor, from handling their luggage to ensuring everyone received a warm welcome home at their final destinations.

WWII veterans give a salute at our farewell dinner hosted by the mayor of Caen at the Abbaye aux Homes, Caen city hall.

On the final evening of the program, everyone enjoyed a farewell dinner at the beautiful Abbaye aux Hommes, where veterans could give thanks and share reflections on their time in Normandy.

“Dear veterans, as a citizen, as a representative of the state in this department, I guarantee you that France will never forget you and that we will always be present every year to remember your fight, your joys, your sorrows and your suffering,” said Caen Mayor Joël Bruneau, who hosted the farewell dinner. “France and the French are truly committed to showing you all the respect due to you and all the recognition of our nation for the decisive contribution that was yours in the liberation of our country.”

Delta, the Best Defense Foundation and Michelin share the same commitment to servant leadership and our military veteran community and are honored to connect our WWII veterans with the people and places they continue to impact 79 years later.

“Having Delta Air Lines as a partner and Michelin as a supporting partner, we’re able to scale it up to provide this opportunity for so many of our heroes,” said Donnie.

After two successful charter missions back to Normandy, the teams are well underway with preparations for next year’s program for the 80th anniversary of D-Day.

“The Ardennes woods are silent now.

The battle smoke has fled.

Seventy years and nine have passed,

Now only memories, and the dead.”

A poem by Jack Foy, WWII Army veteran and member of General Patton’s 3rd Army, read at the June 6, 2023, D-Day ceremony at the Normandy American Cemetery.

Please visit to learn more about the Best Defense Foundation’s Battlefield Return programs and how you or your organization can support. You can read bios on all the veterans from the program here.

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