Today is the 71st anniversary of D-Day. It is nearly impossible for any of us to imagine what those brave boys went through on that day all those years ago as they journeyed into the very abyss on our behalf. We do our best to remember…. do our best to keep their memories alive, as an ever-dwindling number of these heroes remains to tell their tale. Part of the way we do this is by keeping tangible artifacts of their time alive, like the C-47 Skytrains which flew the airborne divisions over Normandy. This is why it was so important for the Commemorative Air Force to save “That’s All Brother”, the C-47 which lead the entire fleet across in the early hours of June 6th, 1944 (Click HERE if you missed the story). But each year, an intrepid few travel to those beaches, airfields and landing grounds in England and France which were central to the D-Day Invasion. On each anniversary, parachutists, most of them re-enactors these days, do their bit to recreate the paratroop drop over French soil for the public to witness, albeit on a far smaller scale and during daylight. It is an important step in keeping the legacy of D-Day alive in the present generations. Last year, talented aviation photographer Kevin Hong traveled to Europe to be a part of these celebrations. He’s just completed a compelling photography book describing his experiences during that time, and we thought our readers might enjoy sharing in some of these details. So here is Kevin Hong to tell you more…
On June 6th, 1944, the D-Day invasion took place over the beaches of Normandy. Seventy years later in 2014, I traveled to parts of England and Normandy where some of the biggest battles of World War II had taken place. My journey originally started in England where I met with the Round Canopy Parachute Team (RCPT). I spent a week traveling with them and covered some of the events commemorating the 70th Anniversary of D-Day.
On June 3rd in the town of Lee-on-the-Solent, England, surviving D-Day Veterans and the community joined together to remember the 70th anniversary of this historic battle. Everyone gathered at the city’s Memorial at the seafront to honor the men lost on the day that changed the course of WWII. Over the majestic background, a C-47, C-45, Spitfires, and a P-51 Mustang flew in memory of the Fallen Squadrons of the Royal Air Force, Fleet Air Arm, and at RNAS Lee-on-the Solent: D-Day to June 25th, 1944.
Through the quaint town, the Round Canopy Parachuting Team marched representing an accurate reenactment of Allied Soldiers from the 82nd and 101st Airborne parading through the streets to the memorial. At the memorial thousands of people arrived to pay their respects to the many thousands of Allied men and women who lost their lives in World War II. It was a beautiful day with the sun setting during the ceremony as the planes flew overhead.
The Round Canopy Parachuting Team and Dakotas Over Normandy were in attendance to help repeat history at Portsmouth and France. At the airfield in town, eight C-47s awaited the jump teams which they then carried across the English Channel parceling the paratroopers out at drop zones across the Normandy coast in a recreation of D-Day. With the overcast sky and drizzle, it was very similar to the conditions 70 years previously as soldiers prepared to cross over. I gathered my camera gear to capture images of the re-enactors jumping out of perfectly good airplanes.
With all of the C-47s loaded with paratroopers, we crossed the English Channel and I was able to photograph them from the air and on the ground as they jumped from the planes. Two C-47s I flew on while I was there were actual D-Day combat veterans, dropping paratroopers out of the sky once again.
After landing in Cherbourg I was able to travel abroad across St. Mere Eglise and other towns liberated by the Allied Forces. On Utah Beach and Omaha Beach where the biggest battles took place, I was able to capture some veterans who landed there in preparation for D-Day 70 years ago. Among them was 93 year old Pee Wee Martin of the 101st Airborne who jumped for a second time at Utah Beach. I interviewed Martin after watching him jump, and conversed with many others during my journey along the coast. Many of the veterans had a similar answer to reporters’ questions “We’re just regular people who did a job we had to do.” Thousands of people traveled to witness the D-Day memorial events set up for the week.
I will return to Normandy this year for the 71st Anniversary of D-Day with the Ladies for Liberty singing group. They will be performing concerts for the veterans and the French people, some of whom still remember the events which took place in those small towns during World War II. I am excited to go back and share in the new events, and to help tell the stories of our living veterans. I will continue to pay honor and respect to our fallen soldiers by telling their stories in my books.