Story and photos by Staff Sgt. Devin Boyer
86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Airmen assigned to the 435th Construction Training Squadron applied their skills to restore a WWII memorial, April 30.
The memorial is home to an engine that belonged to an aircraft shot down by enemy forces during D-Day. After years of weathering, the case surrounding the engine lost its clarity and made it very difficult to see the monument.
Before arriving to Picauville, the 435th CTS team built a new display case at their compound near Ramstein Air Base and transported it in a trailer, 480 miles to the memorial.
“It was a real honor to be able to come out here,” said Staff Sgt. Jeremy Oare, 435th CTS structural craftsman. “When we showed up, we removed the old case and scraped off some of the old paint chipping off underneath the galvanized steel. Then we taped and re-painted everything.”
Oare and his teammates worked hour after hour refurbishing the memorial. When it was time to install the new display case, the entire team carefully lifted it over the engine as to not damage the historical artifact or the case itself. Once the case was in place, the Airmen fixed it to the pedestal and sealed the cracks to prevent moisture from seeping in.
“It’s such a big improvement,” said Airman 1st Class Rachel Miller, 435th CTS aircraft arresting systems apprentice. “The old [case] had been sitting out for a while.”
Miller said it was rewarding to work on a project tied to WWII, and being in the small town of Picauville while learning about its history felt authentic.
Following the 11-hour work day, Col. Steven J. Jantz, 435th Air Ground Operations Wing and 435th Air Expeditionary Wing vice commander; Philippe Catherine, Picauville mayor; members of Picauville Se Souvient, the organization that oversees the memorial; and members of the community gathered for a ceremony to give thanks to the Airmen who refurbished the memorial.
“I was very moved by the renovation work done by the Air Force team from Ramstein,” said Denis Dennebouy, Picauville Se Souvient president through an interpreter. “At the beginning of the process, I just didn’t believe it would happen. For us, it was like a miracle to see an American team coming here, not for an official event, but to work on the monument, to accomplish extensive work for our organization because we are just a small group. It’s something we will never forget.”
After the ceremony, Dr. Jeffrey McGovern, 435th AGOW historian, gave a tour of the aircraft crash site associated with the memorial.
“We are one of the last troop carrier groups to come across the cotentin,” said McGovern recalling the story of the downed aircraft. “By the time the 435th comes across, we’re starting to receive anti-aircraft fire… on the left element as the group flies over, they take the most flak and we lose two airplanes with the paratroopers inside.”
One of the airplanes exploded in the sky losing all aircrew members and paratroopers. The other airplane caught fire and crashed into the ground losing all aircrew and 14 out of the 17 paratroopers inside.
“They crashed right around this town of Picauville,” he continued. “And so, the people of Picauville have taken it upon themselves for over two decades to commemorate the troop carrier folks.”
Before the Airmen headed back to Ramstein, the people of Picauville thanked them once more and extended a warm welcome back to their home.
“I have never seen a community so grateful to America in general, and U.S. military in particular, than the people we met in Picauville,” said Capt. Claude Betene A Dooko, 435th Contingency Response Support Squadron air advisor flight commander, and interpreter. “Normandy is full of monuments and other symbols serving as a constant reminder of the locals’ gratefulness. As an American service member who has been in more than 10 different countries, I never felt more welcomed anywhere else than in Normandy.”
June 6 of this year marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Picauville, among dozens of other locations in the Normandy region, will host ceremonies to commemorate those who fought to liberate France.