Ramstein Airmen keep D-Day memories alive

Capt. Erin Dorrance
Kaiserslautern American

***image1***“As we moved in toward the beaches, we could see an armada of invasion vessels in the channel below us, their courses converging toward the several invasion beaches. I had the surging feeling that I was sitting in on the greatest show ever staged – one that would make world history.”

History, indeed, was made. Sixty-three years later, about 50 Airmen from the 86th Airlift Wing and 24 Airmen from the 435th Air Base Wing participated in the commemoration of D-Day in the Normandy region of France. 

“It was a tremendous honor to be invited to participate in ceremonies honoring those who gave their lives in that huge battle against tyranny,” said Capt. Todd Linton, 37th Airlift Squadron lead planner for the event.

The 37th AS flew two C-130s, along with a German C-160, over the skies of Normandy, air dropping 163 U.S., German, French and Belgian paratroopers, including jumpers from the 86th Contingency Response Group. The paratroopers landed to a greeting by 9,000 applauding French citizens, said 1st Lt. Matt Wunderlich, 37th AS pilot. 

The airdrop was just one of several events during the week. Ramstein Airmen attended many events with French locals where they exchanged stories.

One elderly French woman approached Captain Linton to give him a piece of a parachute she had held onto since 1944. The material was from a 101st Airborne Division Soldier’s parachute that she had discovered in her backyard decades ago, said Captain Linton. 

“We heard stories about families who hid in their basements for days and feared for their children’s lives,” said Lt. Col. Bob Blagg, 37th AS mission commander. “The French citizens still thank us to this day, for our nation’s actions 63 years ago.”

Members of the 435th Munitions Squadron participated in ceremonies in Picauville – where the only Air Force memorial is located – and at Monte Bourg. They also made up the Air Force formation at the Normandy American cemetery, where Secretary of Defense Robert Gates spoke to thousands of visitors, according to Master Sgt. Scott Windorf, 435th MUNS first sergeant.

“We did this as a professional development trip – we camped and paid for it 100 percent on our own,” said Sergeant Windorf. “We were invited to banquets where we met the town’s people and got to know them better.”

Throughout the week of ceremonies and flying missions Ramstein’s Airmen not only participated in the event, but according to Colonel Blagg, they were touched by the enormity of the courage of the Airmen, Soldiers and Sailors who fought so bravely in that history-defining day.

*Opening quote courtesy of “Voices of D-Day: The Story of the Allied Invasion Told by Those Who Were There,” by Ronald J. Drez. The quote was from Allen W. Stevens who flew his 21st mission on June 6, 1944.