USAFE honors D-Day veterans with commemorative flights in France

by Senior Airman Regan Enriquez
86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force members take a photo with World War II veteran Mr. Ceo Bauer, Former 377th Infantry Regiment rifleman, at the end of a D-Day 80 commemorative flight at Cherbourg-Maupertus Airport, France, June 7, 2024. The commemoration of D-Day honors not only the bravery of American service members, but also the contributions and sacrifices of our Allied nations, including the heroism of French resistance fighters. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jordan Lazaro)

Two World War II veterans flew on commemorative flights in honor of the 80th anniversary of D-Day at Cherbourg-Maupertus, France, June 7.

U.S. Capt. Kenny Baird, 86th Operations Support Squadron instructor pilot, smiles at Dany Patrix Boucherie, a childhood survivor of D-Day during a commemorative flight for the 80th anniversary of D-Day, at Normandy, France, June 7, 2024. The sacrifices made by U.S. service members and our Allies during World War II serve as a reminder of the importance of solidarity in times of adversity. It is through our determination that we continue to uphold the principles of freedom and democracy for which so many valiantly fought to preserve. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jordan Lazaro)

The flights were coordinated by Captain Christian Maude, 37th Airlift Squadron mission commander, who worked with United States Air Forces in Europe and other participating squadrons to make it happen.

Maude said he saw the anniversary as a unique opportunity to pay homage to the veterans bravery and to express gratitude for the sacrifices made by the men and women in Normandy 80 years ago.

The two veterans, Ceo Bauer, former 377th Infantry Regiment rifleman, and Louis Stoel, former member of the 45th Infantry Division, had the opportunity to fly with members of the 37th Airlift squadron out of Ramstein Air Base, with support from the 81st Airlift Squadron out of Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas.

Stoel’s neighbor and granddaughter accompanied him on the commemorative flight, making it an unforgettable experience. He joined the U.S. Army in 1943, and volunteered to become a ranger, he then made his way to Italy and France during the course of WWII.

“Coming back to France 80 years later is out of this world,” Stoel added. “I want to thank the aircrew for flying us around the country today and having the opportunity to meet with such a great group of people.”

Much like Stoel, Bauer’s experience was one to remember.

Bauer was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943 as well, he was there on the beaches during D-Day in 1944. 80 years later, he was accompanied by family and friends as he flew over Normandy for the first time since he served.

“It has been an honor to fly in a C-130 for the first time with my companions,” Bauer said. “I couldn’t see Normandy when I flew over the first time, I appreciate the opportunity and I thank the crew.”

Having the opportunity to fly was unique not only for the aircrew, but also the veterans themselves.

“We have the ability to do a big thing for veterans to show that we care for them and remember the sacrifices the men and women made 80 years ago,” said Maude. “It’s an opportunity to show the greatest generation what they built and how we can operate and execute based on that today.”

The commemorative flights were part of a larger series of events honoring the 80th anniversary of D-Day. The event included flyovers, commemorative ceremonies and opportunities for the veterans to interact with current military personnel and locals, bridging the gap between generations and ensuring that the legacy of D-Day continues to inspire.

“I am honored to have been a part of liberating France in the name of the allied nations,” said Bauer. “Vive la France, and long live America.”

Thousands of people gather on the beaches of Normandy during a commemorative 80th anniversary flight for D-Day at Omaha Beach, France, June 7, 2024. Millions of people are anticipated to attend the 80th anniversary of D-Day and the celebrations across Normandy that will take place over the span of two weeks. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jordan Lazaro)