Hearts are heavy but full of happiness. The Best Defense Foundation’s 79th Anniversary of D-Day Battlefield Return Program concluded as everyone loaded onto Delta Air Line’s plane, awaiting them on the tarmac.
As a journalist, I’ve covered the Best Defense Foundation, so I’m no stranger to their impactful work. But seeing it from the inside out has shown me how much work every person puts into these programs, and I’m in complete awe.
You don’t commonly see executives serving food, but Bob Somers, the Senior Vice President of Global Sales at Delta Air Lines, helped serve food to the WWII veterans alongside the flight attendants on the way home. The foundation’s medical team followed up with individuals who needed oxygen level checks and ensured everyone was healthy.
Everyone pulls their weight to make the Battlefield Return Program happen, from the caretakers to the media team to the vital partners at Michelin and Delta Air Lines.
Before take-off, Virginie Durr, Delta Air Lines’ Normandy Project, and Sales Leader, read a letter addressed to everyone from two local French girls.
If that letter doesn’t pull at your heartstrings, knowing who arrived on American soil alongside the charter flight will. Jerome White is an Aviation Maintenance Technician and coordinator of Delta Air Lines’s Honor Guard coordinator. He attended the program as a caretaker and told the foundation earlier in the week that an American GI’s remains were identified and would return home soon.
Private Joe Vinyard has been missing since Dec. 1944 after a tank battle near the Hurtgen Forest. He was assigned to A Company, 774th Tank Destroyer Battalion, 7th Armored Division, as a crew member on an M4 Sherman Tank.
After all these years, Vinyard returned home almost in tandem with 43 WWII veterans — his brothers and sisters in arms. After landing at the Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport, White updated the whole charter.
“Our fallen brother that has been identified and was missing for 78 years is now in Atlanta with us,” White said. “[…] He’s going to Knoxville, Tennessee, in a little bit for his final resting place to go back home.”
Though the program has ended, everyone agreed to stay in touch. Many of the caretakers talked about meeting up with the WWII veterans that live close by. Delta Air Lines pilots said they would follow up with teammates and veterans when they fly into different areas.
Everyone has been riding a high of pure bliss. The French know how to make you feel welcome, but as we return home to ‘normal’ lives, the team knows how lonely. The foundation has vowed not to let that happen. Phone calls, video calls, face-to-face meetings for coffee, and so many other options will help the team stay close.
Planning for the 80th Anniversary of D-Day Battlefield Return Program to Normandy is underway. Keep an eye on the foundation’s website and social media platforms for continual updates.
This is the tenth installation of a series of stories. Keep an eye on the foundation’s social media on Instagram: @bestdefensefoundation, Twitter: @bestdefense_, and Facebook: Best Defense Foundation.