Skip to main content

Return to Normandy 2024: The program comes to an end

On the last full day in Normandy, the veterans participated in a private service at Bayeux Cathedrale before spending their day resting, shopping and packing for their return home. On June 12, the Delta charter team turned the veteran’s hotel into a security check point, easing the process before the special charter flight departed from DOL, landing in ATL in the afternoon.

Upon arrival, over 55 Delta employees volunteered to spend time with the veterans as they wait out their layovers to their final destinations.

While the incredible program has come to an end, Delta is proud to have created a community volunteer program, pairing members of our Global Sales team with WWII veterans to continue serving and supporting them throughout the year.

Return to Normandy 2024: Veterans share stories with students

At Delta and the Best Defense Foundation, we believe one of the most important ways to honor our veterans is through education to ensure their stories and sacrifices are never forgotten. That’s why the WWII veterans participated in a school visit to Bayeux School to engage with over 1,200 middle school and high school students. Celebrated with loud cheers upon their arrival as well as choir and dance performances, the WWII veterans felt humbled and honored for the opportunity to share their stories with the students.

Throughout the program, a group of students selected by Delta, the Best Defense Foundation, and the Consul General of France in Atlanta participated in the Next Generation Program, giving them the opportunity to join the duration of the program and learn about D-Day and WWII alongside the veterans. 

That evening at Abbaye aux Hommes, a former Benedictine monastery in Caen founded in 1063 by William the Conqueror, veterans celebrated the near completion of the program with a farewell dinner hosted by Mayor Joël Bruneau.

Return to Normandy 2024: Parachutes and parades

Veterans gathered in La Fière to watch parachute jumps from U.S. and UK military members based through Europe in recognition of the important battle, largely fought by paratroopers and glider men from the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, to secure the bridge at La Fière. This battle, described as the bloodiest small unit struggle in U.S. military history, cost more than 250 American lives. Without control of the bridge and its vital causeway, American forces coming from Utah Beach would not have been able to force their way inland.

That evening, the Veterans attended one of their favorite parades in Sainte-Mère-Église, the first village to be liberated by American paratroopers. The annual military parade in front of more than 50,000 Normans included military units, marching bands, and cultural and civic groups who march down the same streets that were lined with American troops in 1944 – this time lined with generations of French family members excited to shake hands, offer their gratitude, and gather military cards from the WWII heroes. 

 

Return to Normandy 2024: Love and honor

WWII Veterans were welcomed to Utah Beach by the Mayor of Saint Marie du Mont. Andy Negra, who landed at Utah 80 years ago, thanked the crowds of French citizens for warmly welcoming him and his fellow Veterans back to Normandy. The friendship bonds forged between the French and the U.S. are deep as children dressed as soldiers clamored to meet their heroes. Following Andy’s speech, wreaths were laid in remembrance of the fallen.

Meanwhile, members of the Delta family had the honor of attending the wedding of 100-year-old WWII Veteran Harold Terens and his now-wife, 96-year-old Jeanne Swerlin. In addition to flying the couple to Normandy for the 80th anniversary of D-Day, Delta’s Virginie Durr helped coordinate the beautiful wedding.

The couple was married by Mayor Jean-Pierre Lhonneur in a chapel built in the 1600s, alongside their families. The couple was whisked away to Paris after an intimate reception for a state dinner with President Biden and Macron.

In the afternoon, the Veterans were cheered on by an estimated 35,000 as they participated in a parade through Carentan. Once again onlookers clamored to shake their hands, take a picture, and get an autograph.

 

Return to Normandy: A day of celebration and remembrance

The day was a celebration of liberation at the Overlord Museum with people from across the globe lined up for a chance to meet a WWII veteran and thank them for their service.

After signing countless autographs, the veterans enjoyed a ride on World War II-era vehicles to Omaha Beach, where they laid roses to remember comrades who lost their lives on those shores.

Return to Normandy: Veterans honored on 80th anniversary of D-Day invasion

June 6 marked the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings along the Normandy coast during World War II. This event, which ultimately led to the liberation of Europe, was commemorated with over 14,000 guests and 170 World War II veterans at the Normandy American Cemetery, with special appearances from U.S. President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron.

During this special commemoration, 13 veterans from Delta's program received the prestigious Legion of Honor, the highest French decoration and one of the most famous in the world to honor excellent military conduct. Each veteran received the honor from Macron himself, receiving a passionate embrace and kisses on both cheeks. Biden also shook each veteran's hand, thanking them for their service in the name of freedom.

Following the D-Day Commemoration Ceremony, the veterans gathered again for the Omaha Beach International Ceremony alongside 4,500 guests and 800 VIPs, including 25 world leaders such as Macron, Biden, Prince William of England and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The ceremony featured performances, a series of aircraft flyovers, the reading of letters written during the war, and a visit to Omaha Beach.

Return to Normandy 2024: Pegasus Bridge Official Ceremony

On the eve of D-Day, the veterans continued to remember and pay their respects to those that gave the ultimate sacrifice by attending the Pegasus Bridge Official Ceremony with UK WWII veterans.

On June 5, 1944, Pegasus Bridge was successfully captured by a force of 181 men, led by Major John Howard, which played a pivotal role in limiting the effectiveness of a German counterattack in the aftermath of the Normandy invasion.

In addition to remarks from Best Defense Foundation’s Donnie Edwards and Tim Mapes, Delta’s SVP and Chief Communications Officer, U.S. WWII veteran Wally King shared humbling remarks about the friendship between our allies - followed by an ensemble of bagpipers and a minute of silence.

The afternoon featured a dinner at the Military Classic CENTER, one of the three places in the world to refurbish WWII vehicles and sell them via auction.

Follow along for daily updates, including images and b-roll available for download

Return to Normandy 2024: Paying tribute

The first full day in Normandy was largely centered around remembering those that made the ultimate sacrifice in WWII and recognizing the efforts of all U.S. liberators that paved the way to freedom for many.  

To start the day, the WWII Veterans gathered with heavy hearts for a private ceremony at the Normandy American Cemetery to pay tribute to the comrades and friends they lost 80 years ago. Veterans also had the opportunity to roam the grounds of the cemetery to visit those that have been laid to rest – answering questions from visitors and telling stories of true heroism. 

After a surprise visit to the Overlord Museum for a brief tank demonstration, the Veterans were greeted with a standing ovation and a roar of cheers at the Freedom Prize Ceremony hosted by Normandy Region leaders in Caen – which invites young people aged 15 to 25 from France and around the world to come together and honor those committed to fighting for freedom.  

The Veterans wrapped the busy and emotional day with a welcome gala dinner hosted by Normandy President Hervé Morin. 

Follow along for daily updates, including images and b-roll available for download

Return to Normandy 2024: Arrival

Upon Delta's landing at Deauville-Normandy Airport (DOL), the WWII veterans were greeted by Brigitte Macron, the First Lady of France, and Delta CEO Ed Bastian as they deplaned onto the tarmac to passionate cheers from Normandy residents, members of the U.S. and French armed forces, French dignitaries and children.  

Escorted by the children, the WWII veterans and guests gathered in the airport’s new terminal, where Brigitte Macron gave touching remarks – a special moment for the WWII veterans and guests alike, specifically WWII veteran Neal McCallum who initiated the request for her attendance.  

Bastian took to the stage shortly thereafter, revealing a gift for Deauville Airport to signify gratitude for the strong partnership over the past three years. 

“We’re thankful to our partners in Normandy and at Deauville airport, who allowed us to fly directly into Normandy from Atlanta to ensure the comfort of our WWII heroes,” said Bastian. “Congratulations on this new terminal, and thank you for making this special flight the inaugural for it.” 

Other speakers included Donnie Edwards, President and Founder of the Best Defense Foundation; Patricia Miralles, Minister of Veteran Affairs; U.S. Ambassador Denise Bauer; and U.S. General Darryl Williams. 

Follow along for daily updates, including images and b-roll available for download.

Return to Normandy 2024: Departure

As soon as the WWII veterans made it through security in Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport’s international terminal, a parade and a celebration throughout Concourse F ensued – led by The Dutchtown High School Band, who gave a rousing performance for the second year in a row. The entire terminal from customers to TSA agents cheered as the veterans marched past several gates and waved bon voyage to the heroes eager to board the charter. 

Following a special visit from Delta’s Honor Guard and water cannon salute, Delta flight 9994 to Normandy departed on time at 10 p.m., thanks to Delta’s all-veteran flight operations crew and dedicated in-flight service team.  

Delta is covering the cost of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) to reduce the emissions impact of our Normandy charter, as part of the airline’s ongoing work to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. While the California-based SAF won’t be on the flight, Delta is displacing a gallon of conventional jet fuel for our California-based flying for each of the nearly 33,000 gallons of jet fuel consumed on the roundtrip Normandy charter. This “book and claim” model is the optimal way to utilize existing SAF without creating greater emissions by transporting it farther away from where it’s produced.  

SAF is the most important lever the aviation industry has to decarbonize today, however, there isn’t enough being produced to fuel global demand for even a week. With around 90% of Delta’s carbon emissions coming from jet fuel, we're innovating across the business to find areas to reduce fuel consumption, while advocating for the incentives we need to scale the SAF market. 

Beyond doing our part to scale the SAF market, Delta is taking measures to make the in-flight travel experience more sustainable through actions like: switching to compostable bamboo cutlery and testing paper cups; offering pre-select meals to streamline provisioning; swapping core ground support equipment with electric models, and more.  

Follow along for daily updates, including images and b-roll available for download.

Return to Normandy 2024: Kickoff dinner

The historic journey with 48 WWII veterans – most of whom are in their mid- to late 90s – officially kicked off on Saturday, June 1 in Delta’s hometown of Atlanta with a special gala dinner at the Delta Flight Museum. WWII veterans, Delta employees and leaders, our partners at The Best Defense Foundation, Michelin and Boeing, French and U.S. dignitaries, and Team USA Paralympians Brad Snyder and Dan Cnossen joined the special evening to celebrate the beginning of this important program, taking place for the third year in a row.  

Cnossen, a seven-time Paralympic medalist as a member of Team USA’s Paralympic Biathlon and Nordic skiing team, was also a keynote speaker at the event, as he will be joining the WWII veterans on the special charter to Normandy.  

Throughout the duration of the program, the veterans, Delta and the Best Defense Foundation seek to engage and educate communities across the world so that the legacy of the Greatest Generation will live on. That’s why the 16 students selected for the Next Generation Program and 10 students selected for the Eastman Liberty Prize Contest were also in attendance at the gala dinner – and why they will be joining this exciting return to Normandy alongside these WWII veterans.  

In addition to touching remarks and good company throughout the evening, gala dinner guests enjoyed viewing 1940s vehicles, a special Legion of Honor Celebration for Ralph Bond, music from the Peachtree Jazz Edition and more. 

Follow along for daily updates, including images and b-roll available for download.

Wheels Up kicks off Normandy journey for two WWII veterans

As WWII veterans from around the country began making their way to Atlanta for the special charter flight directly to Normandy, Wheels Up – a valued partner of Delta that offers private aviation solutions – gave two WWII veterans (age 99 and 101) the experience of a lifetime to kick off their journey by flying them directly from California to Atlanta in a private Citation X Super-Mid Jet.  

As WWII Veterans from around the country began making their way to Atlanta for the special charter flight directly to Normandy, Wheels Up – a valued partner of Delta that offers private aviation solutions – gave two WWII Veterans (age 99 and 101) the experience of a lifetime to kick off their journey by flying them directly from California to Atlanta in a private Citation X Super-Mid Jet. 

Flying private allowed the veterans to board the flight at a regional airport more convenient to them, cutting out hours from their travel journey by saving them a trip to a larger-scale airport and providing them with maximum comfort during the long flight. 

Upon being told about the surprise, the two veterans were brought to tears. “This is unbelievable. There’s no way this is happening, no way,” said WWII veteran Jake Larson, also known as Papa Jake. “I’m just a farm boy who joined the National Guard when he was 15.” 

Follow along for daily updates, including images and b-roll available for download.