Parachute Jump in Normandy Kicks Off D-Day 80th Anniversary

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CARENTAN-LES-MARAIS, France (AP) – On Sunday, parachutists leaped from World War II-era planes into the serene Normandy skies that were once the backdrop of fierce battles. These jumps marked the beginning of a week of ceremonies honoring the rapidly diminishing generation of Allied soldiers who landed on D-Day beaches 80 years ago, contributing to the downfall of Adolf Hitler and the liberation of Europe from his tyranny.

Parachute drop in Carentan-Les-Marais in Normandy, France on Sunday, June 02, 2024, ahead of D-Day 80th anniversary commemorations. (AP Photo/Jeremias Gonzalez)

Parachute drop in Carentan-Les-Marais in Normandy, France on Sunday, June 02, 2024, ahead of D-Day 80th anniversary commemorations. (AP Photo/Jeremias Gonzalez)

Veterans, now in their late nineties and older, return to honor fallen comrades and relive their transformative actions in history.

Parachute drop in Carentan-Les-Marais in Normandy, France on Sunday, June 02, 2024, ahead of D-Day 80th anniversary commemorations. (AP Photo/Jeremias Gonzalez)

Parachute drop in Carentan-Les-Marais in Normandy, France on Sunday, June 02, 2024, ahead of D-Day 80th anniversary commemorations. (AP Photo/Jeremias Gonzalez)

“I thought that would have been the last view of England some of those lads of 1944 had,” one veteran reflected. Although Sunday’s jump was during daylight and not under gunfire unlike the original night jump on D-Day, it still brought a profound sense of poignancy, he remarked.

The commemorations this week, including fireworks, parachute jumps, and solemn ceremonies attended by world leaders like U.S. President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, aim to pass the torch of remembrance to current generations who are again witnessing war in Europe, specifically in Ukraine.

Parachute drop in Carentan-Les-Marais in Normandy, France on Sunday, June 02, 2024, ahead of D-Day 80th anniversary commemorations. (AP Photo/Jeremias Gonzalez)

Parachute drop in Carentan-Les-Marais in Normandy, France on Sunday, June 02, 2024, ahead of D-Day 80th anniversary commemorations. (AP Photo/Jeremias Gonzalez)

Seventy parachutists, dressed in WWII-style uniforms, jumped from C-47 aircraft. Their chutes blossomed in the blue skies as thousands cheered below, enjoying music from Glenn Miller and Edith Piaf while they waited. Notably, the crowd applauded a deer darting across the drop zone as the parachutists landed.

Two of the planes, named “That’s All, Brother” and “Placid Lassie,” participated in the original D-Day operations on June 6, 1944. These aircraft were part of the largest-ever sea, air, and land invasion, where Allied airborne forces landed to secure vital points and disable enemy gun emplacements.

The planes departed from Duxford, England, for the 90-minute journey to Carentan, a key D-Day drop zone in 1944, where paratroopers once descended into enemy gunfire and chaos.

The US Army conducts an air assault demonstration in Carentan-Les-Marais in Normandy, France on Sunday, June 02, 2024, ahead of D-Day 80th anniversary commemorations. (AP Photo/Jeremias Gonzalez)

The US Army conducts an air assault demonstration in Carentan-Les-Marais in Normandy, France on Sunday, June 02, 2024, ahead of D-Day 80th anniversary commemorations. (AP Photo/Jeremias Gonzalez)

Sunday’s jumpers were part of an international team of civilian parachutists, mostly ex-soldiers. Among them was Dawna Bennett, a 61-year-old woman who felt the weight of history as she jumped.

World War II veterans are gathering in France to relive old memories, create new ones, and reiterate their wartime message: war is hell. “Seven thousand of my marine buddies were killed. Twenty thousand shot up, wounded, put on ships, buried at sea,” said Don Graves, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran from the Pacific theater.

“I want the younger generation to know what we did,” Graves stated, representing a group of over 60 World War II veterans who arrived in Paris on Saturday.

The US Army conducts an air assault demonstration in Carentan-Les-Marais in Normandy, France on Sunday, June 02, 2024, ahead of D-Day 80th anniversary commemorations. (AP Photo/Jeremias Gonzalez)

The US Army conducts an air assault demonstration in Carentan-Les-Marais in Normandy, France on Sunday, June 02, 2024, ahead of D-Day 80th anniversary commemorations. (AP Photo/Jeremias Gonzalez)

The youngest veteran in the group is 96, and the oldest is 107, as noted by their carrier American Airlines, from Dallas.

“We did our job and we came home, and that’s it. We never talked about it, I think. For 70 years I didn’t talk about it,” said Ralph Goldsticker, a U.S. Air Force captain from the 452nd Bomb Group. Recounting D-Day, he remembered seeing “a big, big chunk of the beach with thousands of vessels” and discussed bombing raids aimed at disrupting German defenses.

“I dropped my first bomb at 06:58 a.m. in a heavy gun placement,” he said. “We went back home, we landed at 09:30. We reloaded.”

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