CARENTAN, FRANCE — Ceremonies took place Wednesday to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day, when Allied forces landed approximately 156,000 troops in Normandy in Nazi-occupied France.
Thousands of military personnel and civilians have taken part in reenactments of famous battles and landmark events across the Normandy region. D-Day veterans who took part in the invasion have been at the heart of many of the events this week.
Among them was 97-year-old Tom Rice, who jumped from a World War II Dakota plane above the town of Carentan Wednesday, recreating the parachute drop he took part in on June 6, 1944.
“Great, great! Beautiful drive, beautiful jump, beautiful flight. Everything was perfect,” Rice said after landing safely in a field outside Carentan to raucous cheers from crowds of spectators.
Rice was a 22-year-old staff sergeant with the 101st Airborne Division on D-Day, among 13,000 Allied paratroopers who were dropped behind enemy lines.
“It was one of my worst jumps,” Rice told VOA. “My arm got caught in the lower left-hand corner of the plane door. And we were doing 165 miles an hour (265 km), and that’s too fast — we can’t jump at that speed. But the pilots wouldn’t slow it down.”
Rice eventually landed safely outside Carentan, but struggled to find his comrades.
“We were spread over so many miles, it took a week and a half to get together.”
The paratroopers would play a crucial role in engaging German defenses ahead of the Allied troops landing on the beaches and securing routes further inland.
This week, more than 1,300 current U.S. servicemen and women are in Normandy to commemorate D-Day, alongside close to 1,000 military personnel from Europe and Canada. In charge of the complex logistics is Sgt. Maj. Rocky Carr of the 21st Theater Sustainment Command.
“Bringing together the might of our allies and partners are what makes us strong, and I think that’s what carried the day for us in the victory 75 years ago. And I would add, it still preserves the peace. That presence and that alliance still preserves the peace to this day,” he said.
The U.S. 4th Infantry Division landed 21,000 troops at Utah Beach on D-Day, among them a young officer named William Miller. Now 97 years old, Miller told VOA during a visit to the beach this week that he feared the sacrifices of his comrades are being forgotten.
“Our young people today don’t know enough about what really happened,” he said.
Current members of the 4th Infantry Division recreated the march from Utah Beach to Sainte-Marie-du-Mont — the first village liberated by U.S. troops — through streets lined with the Stars and Stripes flag. Capt. Joshua Kellbach told VOA he was taken aback by the local support shown to them by the French.
“Just the respect that you get being American here in northern France is absolutely amazing,” he said.
Further east at Omaha Beach, the 75th Ranger Regiment Wednesday recreated the famous Pointe Du Hoc climb, when more than 500 rangers scaled the cliffs the morning of June 6 to take on German defenses.
As the number of D-Day veterans dwindles, soldiers and civilians here say they are determined to keep alive the memory of the horror and sacrifice that fellow soldiers endured 75 years ago.