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World War II veterans travel to France to commemorate 80th anniversary of D-Day

Museum works to preserve stories of WWII veterans
New Orleans museum works to preserve the stories of World War II veterans 02:31

More than 60 veterans of World War II took off Friday from Dallas to France, where they will take part in ceremonies marking the 80th anniversary of D-Day.

The group ranges from 96 to 107 years old, according to American Airlines, which is flying them first to Paris. The flight is one of several that are taking veterans to France for the commemoration.

The group will take part in a wreath-laying ceremony at Suresnes American Cemetery, visit the Eiffel Tower and join in a daily ceremony known as le Ravivage de la Flamme, which honors fallen French service members at the Arc de triomphe.

D-Day 80th Anniversary
World War II veteran Martin Sylvester is helped along at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport in Dallas, Texas, on May 31, 2024. A group of World War II veterans are being flown from Texas to France where they will take part in ceremonies marking the 80th anniversary of D-Day. LM Otero / AP

They then head to the Normandy region for events that include wreath-laying ceremonies on Omaha and Utah Beaches, two of the landing sites for the Allied forces.

Almost 160,000 Allied troops, 73,000 from the United States, landed at Normandy on June 6, 1944, in a massive amphibious operation designed to break through heavily fortified German defenses and begin the liberation of Western Europe.

A total of 4,415 Allied troops were killed on D-Day itself, according to the Necrology Project, including about 2,500 Americans. More than 5,000 were wounded.

The group traveling from Dallas includes six Medal of Honor recipients from wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam who wish to honor the World War II veterans.

There are also two Rosie the Riveters, representing women who worked in factories and shipyards during the war.

Hundreds of thousands of military women from Allied nations also worked in crucial noncombat roles such as codebreakers, ship plotters, radar operators and cartographers.

There are various ceremonies to commemorate the day in France and to thank veterans, some of whom will make the long trans-Atlantic journey despite advanced age, fatigue and physical difficulties.

"We will never forget. And we have to tell them," Philippe Étienne, chairman of commemoration organizer Liberation Mission, told The Associated Press.

Meanwhile, with only approximately 100,000 American World War II veterans still alive, the National World War II Museum in New Orleans is working to preserve their memories.

To reach new generations, the museum sends course programs to schools across the country, and has immersive exhibits like one about the Pacific War.  

"I think that story is vital for them in the future," Michael Arvites, a teacher at Holy Cross High School in New Orleans, told CBS News. "In a world that is ever changing, that has threats that are new, and some threats that are old."  

Steve Ellis served on an invasion landing craft in the Pacific during World War II, and recently shared his stories with seniors from Holy Cross High.

"That first time in combat, do you remember being nervous, or do you feel like your training had prepared you for that moment, or what were your feelings going into that?" one student asked.

"For me, and I think most of my contemporaries, when we're in combat, no — not nervous at all, just doing our jobs," Ellis responded.

Barry Petersen contributed to this report. 

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