Remembering D-Day 75 Years Later In Picauville
by U.S. Airman 1st Class Kristof Rixmann
June 12, 2019
Ten United States Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa service
members paid respects as they attended a ceremony held to
commemorate all service members that served on D-Day, June 6, 1944,
at the U.S. Air Force monument in Picauville, France on June 4, 2019.
U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. John B. Williams, USAFE-AFAFRICA
mobilization assistant to the commander, provided key remarks and
personal thoughts as the ceremony’s guest speaker.
U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. John B. Williams, United States Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa mobilization assistant to the commander, speaks at a ceremony held in honor of all airborne troops and flight crew that served on D-Day in Picauville, France, June 4, 2019. Williams said seeing the terrain where so many U.S. sacrifices were made is a poignant reminder of the cost of freedom experienced today. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kristof J. Rixmann)
a lifetime ambition of mine to see the D-Day commemorations here,”
said Williams. “This is the first year I’m attending Normandy for
D-Day’s anniversary and this year is such a special year as it’s the
75th anniversary. With D-Day, seeing the terrain where so many U.S.
sacrifices were made is a poignant reminder of the cost of our
Williams went on to speak about the importance of
families in Normandy as D-Day is remembered.
the opportunity to experience the hospitality and gratitude of the
people of Normandy as we think back to D-Day,” said Williams. “When
you talk with people here you can see D-Day is a part of their
family memories and these memories are very real for them, as if it
happened yesterday. I spoke with some people that recalled the
events as they were children at the time and, with tears in their
eyes, they said ‘thank you.’”
Williams said it’s very
gratifying to know the events that transpired 75 years ago will be
remembered well into the future in large part due to the efforts
made by the French to ensure the memories of D-Day remain eternal.
U.S. Air Force Col. Joseph Wenckus, 86th Airlift Wing vice
commander, who attended the ceremony with Mr. Scott Lockard, 86th
Airlift Wing vice director, and other service members from
USAFE-AFAFRICA, also shared thoughts on the D-Day invasion and the
commemorations that follow 75 years later.
Hundreds of guests and active duty service members from the United States and Germany gather around the U.S. Air Force monument near the Eglise Saint-Candide de Picauville church for a ceremony honoring all airborne troops and flight crew that served on D-Day in Picauville, France, June 4, 2019. The ceremony was one of 55 ceremonies held between June 1 - 9 in honor of the 75th anniversary of D-Day. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kristof J. Rixmann)
Wenckus, who has
visited Normandy several times and has studied the D-Day battle for
years, believes the peace experienced today should not only be
valued but protected.
“One of the speakers today spoke about
the fragility of peace and how desperately U.S. forces fought to
gain peace on the European continent. That’s something we can’t take
for granted. At Ramstein Air Base, in particular, we need to
treasure the peace we are enjoying, and making sure we are ready to
defend ourselves at a moments notice is a key part in what we do on
a day-to-day basis.”
Today, Picauville, firmly stands as a
symbol of peace, no matter how fragile peace may be, due to the deep
ties the village has to “The Longest Day,” June 6, 1944.
the preparation phase of Operation Overlord, otherwise known as
D-Day, the small village was intended to be one of the first towns
liberated by the Allied forces.
The 508th Parachute Infantry
Regiment, today known as the 82nd Airborne Division, was charged
with seizing Picauville with the intention of using the land as an
aviation runway for P-47 Thunderbolts belonging to the 405th Fighter
On the fateful day of June 6, 1944, C-47s carrying the
508th PIR were on target for the drop zone of Picauville. However,
due to heavy anti-aircraft fire the pilots flew above the cloud
layer, consequently reducing their own visibility.
being on target for Picauville, the 508th PIR dropped from the C-47s
at an altitude far too high at approximately 700 meters; a standard
drop height being 150 meters.
Due to the heavy anti-aircraft
defenses, the difficulties encountered by the pilots caused half of
the regiments paratroopers to land more than 15 kilometers from the
drop zone, thus unable to accomplish their objective of seizing the
village the same night.
Approximately three hours after the
landing, good fortune swung in the favor of Allied forces when
twelve paratroopers from the 508th PIR, who sought information from
civilians living in the area, waved over an approaching vehicle for
questioning. The U.S. paratroopers opened fire on the vehicle after
the driver refused to stop. In the wreckage, the paratroopers pulled
out a deceased German General Wilhelm Falley, commander of the
German infantry division controlling Picauville.
proved to be a crippling blow to the Axis defense controlling the
village, however, it was not enough to overtake the area until four
days later when an Allied offensive finally managed to seize the
Under Allied control, the aviation runway was built
as planned for the P-47 Thunderbolts during their night missions.
The history of the village during WWII makes Picauville a more
than deserving candidate and location for D-Day commemorations, such
as the one seen on June 4 during the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
French national, Denis Dennebouy, President of the Association
of Picauville Remembers, said he is grateful for the persistent
presence of U.S. forces during D-Day commemorations.
A U.S. Air Force Base Honor Guard Airman stands at attention moments before a ceremony began to honor all airborne troops and flight crew that served on D-Day in Picauville, France on June 4, 2019. Behind him is a memorial plaque and framed decorations to honor the 439th Troop Carrier Group who crashed in the early hours on June 6, 1944. Inscribed on the memorial plaque, in French, reads: “Mort pour notre Liberte,” translating to “Died for our Freedom.” (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kristof J. Rixmann)
ceremony, Dennebouy, in suit and tie, wore several pins.
Individually they showed support to one entity but together, seen on
one suit, created a sum greater than its parts. Dennebouy wore a
U.S. Air Force pin, one for the U.S. Army, a U.S.-French flag and a
German-French flag pin. Together, they illustrated not only
Dennebouy’s sense of patriotism for his country but his gratitude
for U.S. forces and even forgiveness for the enemies of yesterday.
Dennebouy, who spoke during the ceremony, offered a lasting
message for all generations as D-Day is remembered 75 years later.
“We will never forget,” said Dennebouy. “Freedom and peace are
very costly. The blood shed for Normandy and Europe gave us the
freedom and peace we have today. We will never forget the 101st
Airborne Division, the 82nd Airborne and the 435th Troop Carrier
Group. I want people to remember their sacrifice because without
them we would not have our freedom and peace today.”
A U.S. Army airborne infantryman shakes the hand of retired Private First Class Joseph Morettini, 82nd Airborne, 508th Regiment, Easy Company, during a ceremony held to honor all airborne troops and flight crew that served on D-Day in Picauville, France, June 4, 2019. On June 6, 1944, Morettini dropped from midnight skies into Normandy with the objective to overtake an enemy stronghold near Picauville. During the ceremony’s conclusion, Morettini remarked to each active U.S. airborne infantrymen he shook hands with: “I dropped here 75 years ago.” (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kristof J. Rixmann)
the ceremony’s conclusion, U.S. Army Airborne infantrymen expressed
their gratitude to the U.S. D-Day liberators who attended the
ceremony. Some then proceeded to swap patches with German Airborne
infantrymen as mementos to mark the commemorations. These acts
evidenced two ideas: the cost of freedom will never be forgotten and
the enemy of yesterday is the friend of today.
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