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Parachute jump from WWII-era planes kicks off commemorations for the 80th anniversary of D-Day

How lawmakers will mark 80 years since D-Day
Group of U.S. lawmakers marking 80 years since D-Day invasion by recreating parachute jump 04:47

Parachutists hurled themselves from World War II-era planes into the now peaceful Normandy skies where war once raged, kicking off a week of ceremonies to mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day.

On Sunday, three C-47 transport planes, a workhorse of the war, dropped three long strings of jumpers, their round chutes mushrooming open in the blue skies with puffy white clouds, to whoops from the huge crown that was regaled by tines from Glenn Miller and Edith Piaf as they waited.

The planes looped around and dropped another three sticks of jumpers. Some of the loudest applause from the crowd arose when a startled deer pounced from the undergrowth as the jumpers were landing and sprinted across the landing zone.

After a final pass to drop two last jumpers, the planes then roared overhead in close formation and disappeared over the horizon.

U.S. soldiers parachute over Carentan-les-Marais, northwestern France, on June 2, 2024, as part of the D-Day commemorations to mark 80th anniversary of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy. LOU BENOIST/aFP/AFP via Getty Images

A week of ceremonies is planned for the fast-disappearing generation of Allied troops who fought from D-Day beaches 80 years ago to Adolf Hitler's fall, freeing Europe of his tyranny.

All along the Normandy coastline — where then-young soldiers from across the United States, Britain, Canada, and other Allied nations waded ashore through hails of fire on five beaches on June 6, 1944 — French officials, grateful Normandy survivors, and other admirers are saying "merci" but also goodbye.

The ever-dwindling number of veterans in their late nineties and older who are coming back to remember fallen friends and their history-changing exploits are the last.

Dozens of World War II veterans are converging on France, many perhaps for the last time, to revisit old memories, make new ones, and hammer home a message that survivors of D-Day and the ensuing Battle of Normandy, and of other World War II theaters, have repeated time and time again — that war is hell.

"Seven thousand of my marine buddies were killed. Twenty thousand shot up, wounded, put on ships, buried at sea," said Don Graves, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served in Iwo Jima in the Pacific theater.

"I want the younger people, the younger generation here to know what we did," said Graves, part of a group of more than 60 World War II veterans who flew into Paris on Saturday.

D Day 80th Anniversary US Veterans Arrival
American D-Day veteran Anthony Pagano arrives at Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport on June 1, 2024 for ceremonies marking the D-Day 80th anniversary. Thomas Padilla / AP

The youngest veteran in the group is 96 and the most senior 107, according to their carrier from Dallas, American Airlines.

"We did our job and we came home and that's it. We never talked about it I think. For 70 years I didn't talk about it," said another of the veterans, Ralph Goldsticker, a U.S. Air Force captain who served in the 452nd Bomb Group.

Of the D-Day landings, he recalled seeing from his aircraft "a big, big chunk of the beach with thousands of vessels" and spoke of bombing raids against German strongholds and routes that German forces might otherwise have used to rush in reinforcements to push the invasion back into the sea.

"I dropped my first bomb at 06:58 a.m. in a heavy gun placement," he said. "We went back home, we landed at 09:30. We reloaded."

A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers is also preparing to honor the sacrifice made by American paratroopers, who played a key role on D-Day, in a special way.

"This will likely be the last large anniversary that we have some of the veterans actually joining us so we want to show our appreciation to them specifically," Democratic Rep. Jason Crow, of Colorado, said.

The group of more than a half dozen veterans in Congress will parachute from a plane to commemorate D-Day.

"This is important to keep their story alive for us to honor them as veterans and as Americans," said Republican Rep. Mike Waltz, of Florida, who will also be participating.

Part of the purpose of fireworks shows, parachute jumps, solemn commemorations and ceremonies that world leaders will attend this week is to pass the baton of remembrance to the current generations now seeing war again in Europe, in Ukraine. U.S. President Biden, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and British royals are among the VIPs that France is expecting for the D-Day events.

80 years after D-Day, historians work to preserve stories 07:54
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