June 6, 1944: a day of great sacrifice, victory

  • Published
  • By Col. Stephen Lambert
  • 86th Airlift Wing vice commander
Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force -- You are about to embark upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you ... Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened, he will fight savagely ... The free men of the world are marching together to victory. I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. 
-- A portion of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower's speech prior to the D-Day invasion

On June 6, 1944, 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily-fortified French coastline to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy, France. General Eisenhower called the operation a crusade in which "we will accept nothing less than full victory."

More than 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the D-Day invasion, and by day's end on June 6, the Allies gained a foot- hold in Normandy. The D-Day cost was high, -more than 9,000 Allied Soldiers were killed or wounded -- but more than 100,000 Soldiers began the march across Europe to defeat Hitler.

This weekend we commemorate the 67th anniversary of the D-Day invasion when the Allies stormed the Normandy shore. We remember the sacrifices great Airmen before us have made, and the impact they had on one day that would shape the future of mankind.

Though the U.S. Air Force as we know it today was not around in 1944, airpower certainly played a key role in the events of that fateful day. After all, the first invaders of Normandy, on June 6, 1944, did not arrive by sea during the day, but by air at night.

In fact, the units that provided that great airpower 67 years ago have a direct lineage to our own Team Ramstein units -- the 435th Troop Carrier Wing and 37th Troop Carrier Squadron were responsible for the C-47 Skytrains who dropped thousands of U.S. paratroopers of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions into Normandy. The 435th TCW delivered 6,600 men of the 101st Airborne Division behind enemy lines of Utah Beach that day, receiving a Distinguished Unit Citation for their efforts.

Combining their efforts, the two units conducted 1,606 sorties and delivered 612 gliders, just as we team up today to provide combat capabilities on any battlefield, anytime, anywhere in the world. And it was the 37th that was known for ensuring some of the most accurate airdrops during the campaign.

We can proudly look back at that fateful day and see how the bonds of cooperation still exist today between our 86th Airlift Wing and 435th Air Ground Operations Wing teammates.

This year we will partner once again in Cherbourg, France, to show great pride in our commemoration of an event that shaped world history. The event will include aircrews and C-130J aircraft executing flybys and participating in the actual commemorative airdrop - combined with jumpers from 4 nations, including 19 Jumpers from the 435th AGOW and medics, aerial porters, fire support and other support personnel.

But it's not just the relationship that was formed between our two units that we highlight on this day; we also honor the people of the Normandy region. They undertook the grim work of looking for and treating survivors, and recovering the remains of the dead. They ensured the many Airmen and Soldiers hurt or killed that day were cared for, and over time, built memorials throughout the region in their honor.

For those who visit Normandy today, it's hard to imagine this area as the stage of the most massive military operation in human history. It's hard to imagine that the fates of many nations were decided June 6, 1944. And in the midst of chaos and death, a friendship was forged which has since withstood the test of time, and promises to continue for many decades to come.

We owe a great debt to the men who fought and died in the name of liberating France. We owe them our gratitude, our honor, eternal memory. They came from a faraway place to fight for a cause they believed in, and they gave their lives at much too young of an age... much like some of our Airmen today.

Thanks to our great partnership here at Ramstein, the 435th and 86th will continue to carry out the mission of defending freedom and delivering combat capabilities wherever we're called upon. And thanks to the great people of Normandy, a piece of America will always be present along the beaches and the coastline. The importance of what happened June 6, 1944, will never be forgotten.