US assault troops in an LCVP landing craft approach Omaha Beach, 6 June 1944. (Photograph from the Army Signal Corps Collection in the U.S. National Archives)

On June 6th scores of cities, towns and villages in France and in Holland celebrate their liberation, and the victory of allied troops during the Normandy invasion; and special tributes were paid to the U.S. soldiers who comprised the bulk of allied forces.

The Normandy landings, codenamed Operation Neptune, were the landing operations of the Allied invasion of Normandy, in Operation Overlord, during World War II. The landings commenced on Tuesday, 6 June 1944 (D-Day), beginning at 6:30 am British Double Summer Time (GMT+2). In planning, D-Day was the term used for the day of actual landing, which was dependent on final approval.

The landings were conducted in two phases: an airborne assault landing of 24,000 British, American, and Canadian airborne troops after midnight, and an amphibious landing of Allied infantry and armored divisions on the coast of France starting at 6:30 am.

The town that was the first to be liberated by American troops seems to be the nexus point for the celebrations; and that is St. Marie-Mere Eglise.  At the opening wreath laying ceremony, Army General Curis M. Scarparotti said: “There are moments in a nation’s history when its future course is decided by a chosen few who walked bravely into the valley of the shadow of death”.

The town of Ste. Marie Eglise has a town crest different from the traditional French crests which usually honor some medieval personage or battle.  This crest honors an American military unit, the 82nd Airborne

U.S., German and French dignitaries salute as “Taps” is played during an “Iron Mike” wreath-laying ceremony on, June 4, 2017. The ceremony commemorated the 73rd anniversary of the D-Day landings. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Tamika Dillard 

“In such moments, young men and women pledge their lives so that their nation can live,” said NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe and the commander of U.S. European Command.

St. Marie-Mere Eglise is one of many French cities and towns that celebrate the liberation of France. And the June 4th start date builds up to a climax on the actual anniversary of June 6th, and does not end until June 11th. 

The streets of Ste. Marie Eglise are filled as D-Day Task Force members march into town.
The streets of Ste. Marie Eglise are filled as D-Day Task Force members march into town.

U.S. Army paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division and the 82nd Airborne Division; French, British, Dutch and German troops; French nationals; and family and friends participated in the ceremony, which marked the 73rd anniversary of the D-Day landings in France.

Most of the towns have parades and almost all have local residents dressed as GI’s including the young man dressed as an Army medic. 

Each year, countless visitors come to visit the Iron Mike Memorial here. The 14-foot tall statue of a World War II-era airborne soldier is a copy of a sculpture that stands at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The statue was erected to pay tribute to the numerous American paratroopers and infantry soldiers who lost their lives in this area of France.

An inscription on the Iron Mike Memorial statue says that about 254 U.S. soldiers were killed and 525 were wounded during the Battle for La Fiere Bridgehead, June 6-9, 1944.

This 500-yard stretch of causeway transformed a unit, defined its character and inspired an Army, he said.

Costly Battle

“The Battle of La Fiere was the most significant operation of the 82nd Airborne Division during World War II,” Scaparrotti said. “It was also the costliest small-unit action in the history of the U.S. Army.” 

During the early days of the Normandy invasion, the small bridge and causeway over the Merderet River — along with a nearby bridge and causeway at Chef du Pont — were critical objectives for both sides. For the Germans, they were essential to breaking up the American landing at Utah Beach. And the Americans needed to control the river crossing to expand their beachhead in Normandy. Even though the Americans were lightly armed, the Germans were never able to cross the bridge.

 “Several hundred airborne warriors seized a causeway that helped free a continent and end a war,” Scaparrotti said. 

The national commander of the American Legion, Charles Schmidt, noted that each of the attendees and participants who gathered at the ceremony stood in the same place as those who fought and died for the liberation of Normandy during World War II.

A French boy dressed as a U.S. Paratrooper smiles for a photo during D-Day celebration at Ste. Marie Eglise

A French boy dressed as a U.S. Paratrooper smiles for a photo during D-Day celebration at Ste. Marie Eglise, June 3. Task Force 68, which is made up of paratroopers from U.S., and United Kingdom, re-enacted the D-Day airborne operation on the La Fiere fields near Ste. Marie Eglise, France to commemorate the heroic acts of the WWII paratroopers who made the jump 68 years ago. 

After the jump, the task force marched into the town of Ste. Marie Eglise to the sounds of cheers from the locals. Task Force 68 is in Normandy, France to commemorate the 68th anniversary of D-Day. 

A question I am a bit embarrassed to ask is this; did your town celebrate D-Day. I can say that my town kind of skipped it this year.  When I searched the TV listings for a movie that celebrated this very important battle in our history; I was disappointed again. You could not find a thing on regular channels; nor cable.  I searched the internet using several search engines looking for some kind of American celebration and when I entered the search arguments, the first thing I got was an American celebration in St. Marie Eglise in France. And then I viewed a program that showed over 82 cities and towns in France and Holland that celebrated this allied victory.

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial
The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, overlooking Omaha Beach

Perhaps it was because it was their countries that were invaded and taken over. That’s a solid enough reason for me to accept. But I at least would like to recognize one of those soldiers who did not come home; Nicholas Parisi. His dad was my Godfather at my baptism. He died on D-Day not seeing his 20th birthday while serving with the 29th Infantry Division.

The second reason I covered D-Day is to give Metropolitan Airport News readers another reason to support our military. But here I might have chosen to wrong audience; over the 12 years I have been working in the aviation industry, I have never seen a collection of companies and people who support the military as much as our industry. 

I hope we can continue to be supportive of the men and women who serve this country. Every year their numbers are getting smaller and smaller.

D-Day Casualties

Nation/Sector – estimated casualties:

  • U.S. Airborne – 2,499
  • U.S. / Utah – 197
  • U.S. / Omaha – 2,000
  • U.K. / Gold – 413
  • Can. / Juno – 1,204
  • U.K. / Sword – 630
  • U.K. Airborne – 1,500

When northern Europe was in the clutches of Nazi control 73 years ago, 156,000 allied soldiers were there to fight for liberty. The date these soldiers landed on the beaches of Normandy – June 6, 1944 – would from that day forward be remembered as D-Day in the World War II conflict.

It is estimated that more than 425,000 allied and German soldiers lost their lives, were wounded or went missing during the invasions that followed the D-Day landings making it a date all would remember for decades to come.

Mr. Alba was previously Editor of the Airport Press for 12 years covering both local as well as global aviation news. Prior to this, Mr. Alba had Executive positions in Systems Engineering and Marketing with IBM World Trade, and had foreign assignments in the Far East and Latin America earning three Outstanding Achievement Awards. Mr. Alba also directed a new function dealing with Alternate Fuels for Public Service Electric & Gas company in New Jersey and founded a Natural Gas Vehicle Consortium consisting of car company executives and fleet owners, and NGV suppliers in New Jersey. Mr. Alba was a founding partner of ATA, an IT Consulting company which is still active in Central and South America. After leaving the armed forces, Mr. Alba’s initial employee was the U.S. Defense Department as an analyst.

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