Team Ramstein supports D-Day ceremonies

by Ramstein Public Affairs

More than 70 Ramstein Airmen were part of the weeklong festivities June 4 to 7 celebrating the 65th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy, France.

Though the Air Force as we know it today was not around in 1944, airpower certainly played a key role in the events that led to the liberation of France. After all, the first invaders of Normandy, on June 6, 1944, did not arrive by sea during the day, but by air at night, courtesy of the Army Air Corps.

In fact, the units that provided the airpower 65 years ago have a direct lineage to both wings at Ramstein. The 435th Troop Carrier Group and 37th Troop Carrier Squadron were responsible for the C-47 Skytrains that dropped thousands of U.S. paratroopers of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions in Normandy.

“We will never forget the courageous acts of heroism displayed here,” said. Brig. Gen. Michael Callan, 17th Air Force vice commander and guest speaker for the ceremony held in Picauville, France, June 5.

The ceremony paid tribute to the C-47 aircrews and paratroopers who crashed near the town on June 6, 1944. This year, a C-47 model was added to the memorial site.
To pay tribute to this lineage and the historic liberation of France overall, Airmen from Ramstein contributed to the nearly 30 ceremonies that took place during the week, with a major role in events held at Chef du Pont, Picauville, Caretan and Mont Saint Michel, culminating with an airborne drop June 7 near Sainte Mere Eglise.

“It is really an honor to come back here,” said Master Sgt. Alan Arceneaux, 37th Airlift Squadron flight engineer. “This squadron has so much history with D-Day and so little is known about it. The 37th TCS actually coordinated a lot of the drops that day.”

Whether talking to veterans, standing in formation, escorting media or calling in C-130 flyovers, Team Ramstein ensured airpower remained a key element during the events.

“It was an incredible trip. I was able to spend time with the locals and meet D-Day veterans, which is definitely a valuable experience,” said 1st Lt. John Hereford, one of seven Airmen representing the 435th Air Base Wing. “I’m really glad I got to go and would love to be able to return for future anniversaries.”

On June 7, more than 300 U.S. Army and Air Force and British and German paratroopers jumped out of U.S. Air Force C-130s and French and German C-160s to commemorate the historic airdrop made so long ago.

“Jumping onto (the) ‘Iron Mike’ Drop Zone is a humbling experience, especially when you reflect on what happened there 65 years ago,” said Col. Timothy Brown, 86th Contingency Response Group commander, who was one of eight Ramstein Airmen to jump during the ceremony June 7. “Our conditions Sunday weren’t ideal, but at least it was daytime, and we weren’t being shot at.  I’m in awe of what they did in 1944.  We owe our freedom today to that generation of brave Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines.”

On June 6, 1944, 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily-fortified French coastline to fight Hitler’s forces on the beaches of Normandy. That day, more than 9,000 Allied Soldiers were killed or wounded, but more than 100,000 Soldiers began the march across Europe.

“We are walking through the pages of history here,” said Lt. Col. Mark August, 37th Airlift Squadron commander, who took part in the week’s events. “There are two pages here – one that was written 65-years-ago and one being written today.”
In the Airborne Museum in the small town of Saint Mere Eglise, there is a picture of one of the original 37th TCS airplanes, the colonel said.

“The other page of history is this is the last time the C-130E’s from the 37th AS will be fulfilling this mission,” he said. “Next time we come we will be flying the Super Hercules exclusively.”

Regardless of the model though, the sound of cargo aircraft flying overhead reflects the sound of freedom to the residents of Normandy.

“Hearing the sound of the aircraft is very special to me,” said Andre Chauvin, an 80-year-old Normandy resident who, along with his 10 siblings, helped provide medical care to 12 U.S. servicemembers who crashed in a C-47 nearly 100 yards from his house in 1944.

Mr. Chauvin, now a resident of Cherbourg, France, comes to the Picauville ceremony every year to honor those who died that day and those who fought to liberate the town.

This year, he met the granddaughter of one of the 12 who he helped avoid capture from the occupying forces, and it brought tears to his eyes, he said.