WWII Vets Return to Normandy: An Emotional Journey 79 Years After D-Day
They defeated the Axis powers almost eight decades ago. Now, a group of 43 WWII veterans — with an average age of 100-years-old — have revisited their old battlegrounds throughout Normandy and paid tribute to those that never made it home. The Best Defense Foundation recently concluded its 79th Anniversary of D-Day Battlefield Return Program to Normandy on June 8. Veterans who attended the program could not go without the Foundation’s caretakers and medical team that form the program's backbone.
Day 10 – 2023 Normandy Battlefield Return: The 79th Anniversary of D-Day Battlefield Return Program Concludes
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.
Day 9 – 2023 Normandy Battlefield Return: 1,200 Children Welcome WWII Veterans to Jeanne d’Arc Bayeux school, Best Defense says Adieu to Normandy
The Collège et Lycée Jeanne d’Arc welcomed 43 WWII veterans along with the rest of the Best Defense Foundation and its partners on Wed. The air was electric with the cheers of 1,200 French children beyond excited to see the veterans visiting their school. The foundation visited the school for a meet and greet that would allow children from Bayeux, France, to meet with their heroes, the liberators of Europe.
Day 8 – 2023 Normandy Battlefield Return: Former Cpl. John “Jack” Foy Gives Speech Heard ‘Round the World
Boys too young to serve lied to get into the military so that they could fight for their country in WWII. Some as young as 15, and former Staff Sgt. Jake Larson was one of those people. He stormed the Normandy Beach on D-Day, braving heavy machine gun fire and artillery. He made it off the beach without any wounds, arguably a miracle. Now, he’s returned to the cemetery where so many of his friends were killed by Nazi machine gun fire on Omaha Beach 79 years ago.
Day 7 – 2023 Normandy Battlefield Return: Best Defense Foundation Pays Tribute to Pegasus Bridge and Pointe-du-Hoc
Hours before American soldiers stormed Omaha Beach, Rangers hit the cliffs of Pointe-du-Hoc. They knocked out the enemy forces despite heavy machine gun fire and grenades raining down as they scaled the cliffs. They secured the cliff top, a critical win for the boys hitting the beachheads. 79 years later, the Best Defense Foundation attended a wreath-laying ceremony commemorating the Rangers' success. 43 WWII veterans attended as US Air Force AC-130s flew overhead.
Day 6 – 2023 Normandy Battlefield Return: 43 WWII Veterans Visit La Fiere and Utah Beach, Some Reconcile with Old Traumas
Tears dripped down from eyes that saw the carnage of war. The waves crash just beyond the sand dunes. For 6 of 43 WWII veterans, they are standing on Utah Beach, a place they remember. Many others were emotional, thinking of the family and friends they lost on this beach. Tec5 Robert P. ‘’Bob’’ Gibson landed on Utah Beach in the second wave on D-day. He was assigned to Battery A, 116th AAA Battalion, 1st Army. Seeing Utah Beach brings back vivid memories as it did for several other WWII veterans who attended the ceremony with Gibson.
Day 5 – 2023 Normandy Battlefield Return: Glider Infantryman Reunites with Carentan, WWII Army Corps Nurse Turns 102
The people of Cerentan, France, and several soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division welcomed the Best Defense Foundation and 43 WWII veterans for a parade through the very streets the Allied forces liberated almost eight decades ago. Staff Sgt. George Mullins was one of the soldiers that broke the Nazis’ grip on Carentan. The Best Defense Foundation’s mission is to take care of the ones who took care of us. As part of that mission, Mullins had a chance to obtain closure by visiting the old battleground he fought tooth and nail through the streets at 18 years of age.
Nicknames were prevalent amongst the American GIs in WWII, but that tradition continues into today’s armed forces. One WWII veteran had his nickname well before the war, though. When I first met Robert “Boots” Chouinard on the first day of the 79th Anniversary of D-Day Battlefield Return Program to Normandy, he leaned in close and said, “Do you want to hear how I earned my nickname?”
Day 4 – 2023 Normandy Battlefield Return: Best Defense Foundation Visits German and American Cemeteries, WWII Veteran Receives Legion of Honor
During the invasion of Normandy, 29,000 American soldiers were killed and 106,000 wounded or missing. D-day remains one of the bloodiest battles in America’s history. Almost 79 years later, 43 WWII veterans visited the Normandy American Cemetery on Friday. White crosses and Star of David headstones stretch as far as the eye can see. The somber beauty of the cemetery brought tears to almost everyone in the Best Defense Foundation’s group visiting the cemetery that day.