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Culmination of Honor: D-Day 75 Years Later

NORMANDY, France --

“The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of the liberty-loving people everywhere march with you … we will accept nothing less than full victory,” said U.S. Army Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, supreme commander of Allied Forces.

Now, 75 years later, Eisenhower’s words still echo to remind the world of the magnitude of the D-Day landings and the heroism of those who committed to wading onto beaches to rush headlong into heavy oppositional fire, to flying through flak to face enemy attack from the skies and below, and to parachuting into a hostile countryside all to end tyranny of the Axis powers and liberate Europe.

The commemorative event of the 75th Anniversary of D-Day aimed at a simple goal: remembering the commitment, sacrifice and human toll of world conflict and vowing never to repeat such an undertaking by honoring those who brought it to an end.

“It's about keeping the flame alive," said retired U.S. Army Major General John Raaen, D-Day survivor who scaled Pointe du Hoc, France. "Most of us don't want to be forgotten, and this is a way for a large group of people not to be forgotten. Those that didn’t come home, they are the real heroes."

Squadrons from the 19th and 314th airlift wings, from Little Rock Air Force, Arkansas, participated in the week-long tribute to this historic event along with other U.S. units and coalition forces. The commemorative events opened June 5, with a diamond-formation flight over Pointe de Hoc, while U.S. Army Rangers scaled the cliffs. Not only were these events a showcase of the legacy continued by the U.S. military forces, but it also represented the massive scale of Operation Overlord.

With less than 620,000 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II still alive, approximately 170 veterans traveled to Normandy for the commemorative events.

“We are gathered here on freedom’s altar, on these shores, on these bluffs, on this day 75 years ago, 10,000 men shed their blood, and thousands sacrificed their lives, for their brothers, for their countries, and for the survival of liberty,” said President of the United States Donald Trump. “Today, we remember those who fell, and we honor all who fought right here in Normandy. They won back this ground for civilization.”

“To more than 170 veterans of the Second World War who join us today: You are among the very greatest Americans who will ever live,” Trump continued. “You’re the pride of our nation. You are the glory of our republic.  And we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”

The veterans who were present for this year’s memorial events vividly recounted stories of the D-Day landings and the ensuing battles to liberate Nazi-held Europe. Their stories served as a reminder to those currently serving of the responsibility of wearing the uniform.

“Seeing and hearing the history of what happened by actually being here, there is no better way to learn,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Cason Soat, 61st Airlift Squadron pilot. “To be able to put on display the flights of the C-130 as we drop paratroopers over La Fiere Drop Zone shows we still remember and respect those that came before us—the importance of it never being forgotten.”

The final movement Team Little Rock participated in was the culmination of the D-Day commemorative events--a mass-formation flight performed by the 41st, 61st and 62nd airlift squadrons along with 30 other aircraft from various units from six nations June 9, 2019. The airdrop was the largest over Normandy since World War II. More than 1,350 U.S. service members, civilians and coalition Allied paratroopers descended over La Fiere Drop Zone on the outskirts of Sainte-Mère-Église, the first liberated town in France. The Iron Mike monument looks over the area and serves as a constant reminder of the events that ultimately served to liberate the Normandy coastline and countryside.

“The ability for us to come out here and show some respect where we can and be humbled in the whole experience while being able to learn so much has been incredible,” Soat said. “We are better Airmen and people because of this experience.”

From past experiences to future generations, this 75th Anniversary of D-Day is more than another day to reflect--it’s a day that will be long remembered as a culmination of honor and respect. Their legacy lives on in today’s units as Airmen use the C-130J to conduct rapid global mobility to support commandant commands and aid in humanitarian crises.

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