U.S. veterans of World War II touched down Thursday in Normandy, France, as part of the upcoming 78th anniversary of the D-Day landings. The former soldiers, many of them in their mid-90s, arrived on a Delta Air Lines nonstop flight from Atlanta to Deauville Airport, the first time a U.S. passenger airline has flown there nonstop.
“Delta is privileged to have played our part in bringing these brave veterans back to Northern France with members of their families for this special week of remembrance," said Bob Somers, Delta's S.V.P. of Global Sales. "We are very proud of our partnership with Best Defense Foundation. Their philosophy of taking care of those who took care of us is wholeheartedly shared by Delta and our employees."
This is the first time some of the veterans have returned to France since the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944, which marked a significant turning point for the Allies in World War II.
In partnership with community partner Best Defense Foundation, the World War II veterans, accompanied by veterans from Delta and Michelin, were greeted by local dignitaries at a special welcome event that opened a week-long program of remembrance to mark the D-Day landings.
“We're honored to welcome back U.S. veterans to our beautiful coastal town," said Phillipe Augier, mayor of Deauville and first V.P. of the Syndicat Mixte of Deauville Normandy Airport. "This place holds deeply personal memories of their time here, and we are forever grateful to them.”
Sophie Gaugain, V.P. of the Normandy region, noted the critical role the veterans played "has a special place in French hearts and in our region's history. It is the resting place for the many servicemen who laid down their lives for our future, and we are honored to welcome them back to our region today.”
U.S. Ambassador Denise Campbell Bauer echoed that sentiment: "They played a critical role in ensuring that the bonds that bind our nations together and our common desire for freedom - even through turbulent times - remain stronger than ever.”
During their stay, a number of the veterans will receive the French Légion d'honneur, the highest French order of merit. Other official commemoration events include parades in the towns of Sainte-Mère-Église and Carentan and a commemorative parachute jump at La Fière. This once-in-a-lifetime trip is supported by Delta Air Lines and Michelin, as part of a shared long-standing commitment to veterans. Michelin, the leading mobility company, will be sponsoring two dining receptions for the veterans.
“Three generations have grown up since the landings took place," said Donnie Edwards, founder and president of the Best Defense Foundation. "Yet, 78 years on, today is just as important as the first anniversary. We thank these veterans for their service, and the freedom for which they fought."