USAFE-AFAFRICA commemorates sacrifice, legacy of Airmen who supported D-Day at 80th anniversary event

  • Published
  • By Capt. Stuart Thrift
  • U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa

Gen. James B. Hecker, U.S. Air Forces Europe - Air Forces Africa commander, commemorated the 80th Anniversary of Operation Overlord June 7 in the company of veterans, civic leaders and family of service members who fell in battle establishing the beachhead needed to liberate Europe.

The commemorative event took place at a memorial garden in Picauville, that marks the location where 20 U.S. service members assigned to the 37th Airlift Squadron died when their C-47 Skytrain crashed during air operations supporting the Normandy landings.

“Today, we commemorate the bravery of aircrew and paratroopers who accepted great risk for their actions here 80 years ago,” Hecker said. “We are grateful for the effort to remember them, even 80 years later, so that their courage and dedication can continue to inspire the citizens of all our great nations.”

Before midnight on June 5, 1944, members of the 37th AS took off from Royal Air Base Cottesmore, England. They flew across the English Channel towards predetermined airdrop coordinates in Normandy. Their C-47s airlifted paratroopers from the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions for insertion behind enemy lines to stall reinforcements, capturing Axis infrastructure that would imperil the 150,000 Soldiers set to land on the five beaches. In securing the flanks, the paratroopers had to be in place before the Normandy landings could begin.

“They faced heavy enemy fire and adverse weather conditions — yet they persevered,” Hecker said. “Their bravery and determination ensured paratroopers and supplies were delivered to the right locations at the right time.”

Following the success of D-Day, the 37th AS continued to support the Allied efforts throughout World War II and remains active today, providing airlift and airdrop capabilities to troops in U.S. European Command, Africa Command and Central Command. Hecker related the 37th's legacy of bravery to service members.

“Our Airmen and Guardians … continue to take current global challenges head-on, preserving democracy and freedom around the globe,” Hecker said. “The heroism, honor, and sacrifice of the Allied Forces on D-Day will always resonate with the U.S. armed forces and our Allies and partners across Europe. We remain steadfast in our commitment to European nations, especially in this time of adversarial aggression.”