43 WWII Veterans Enroute to France via Historic Charter Flight

2023 Normandy Battlefield Return – Day 2

When America and her Allies liberated concentration camps throughout Europe from 1944 to 1945, it created waves that continued to ripple throughout history. Those saved went on to have families, many appreciative of the sacrifices the soldiers, sailors, and airmen made to liberate their families.

What many of our WWII soldiers may not have known at the time is how grateful the children of Holocaust survivors would be. That appreciation was ever-present during a meet and greet between Delta Air Line employees and the Best Defense Foundation.

Cpl. John “Jack” Foy served in the 347th Infantry Regiment, 87th Infantry Division, 3rd Army. He was one of the soldiers who played an integral role in rescuing those imprisoned within the Nazi’s horrific camps. During the meet and greet, Foy was asked what he did in WW II by a Delta employee. He replied, “killed a lot of Germans.”

But when Vicki Jennings introduced herself as the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, Foy’s tone softened, and the two had an emotion-packed conversation.

“I was involved in the liberation of several concentration camps — the biggest one was Buchenwald,” Foy said. “I still can’t believe what we saw when we drove a tank through the gates. Bodies were laying all over the place — some of them were decaying.”

Jennings, a manager of charter operations for Delta Air Lines, was awe-stricken speaking with Foy and another veteran, Sgt. Andrew ‘Andy’ Negra Jr. also liberated Buchenwald as a part of the 128th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, 6th Armored Division.

“That just floored me,” Jennings said. “It just amazes me what they did.”

Jennings described her mother, Gesina “Tini” deDwarte, as a strong woman. Jennings’ mother was separated from her family early into the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. She moved around Amsterdam for four years with the help of the Dutch Underground, only reuniting with her family once.

Tragically, deDwarte witnessed her family’s abduction and later discovered that none of her immediate family members had survived.

“We heard some things. Like, she was a runner for the resistance,” Jennings said. “She was very defiant at first. She did not want to go into hiding, but, unfortunately, she had to.”

This was only one of many conversations that left me speechless during the event. It was the last stop in Atlanta, Georgia, before the foundation 43 WWII veterans embarked on a historic flight directly into Deauville Airport.

As the veterans said farewell to the Delta employees, the hard work from the foundation team continued. The foundation’s volunteers functioned like a well-oiled artillery crew getting everyone’s luggage packed and off to the airport. The whole foundation and its partners headed to the airport shortly after.

Before walking through security, Delta Air Lines employees welcomed the foundation with red, white, and blue in the form of hats, flags, and clothing. They cheered for the team, but what waited on the other side of security was nothing short of amazing.

The Dutchtown Highschool Band and drum line from Dutchtown, Georgia, welcomed everyone with rejuvenating music from percussion and brass instruments. Then, all 43 WWII veterans joined with an honor guard, the marching band, drum line, and foundation volunteers for a parade line down to their gate.

As the veterans rolled closer to their gate, French citizens ran up in tears, thanking them for their service. The international terminal came to life with the boom of the bass drums, the captivating sounds of the brass instruments, and the overall atmosphere.

Veterans who were in the airport awaiting flights, people with family members who served, and general fans of the liberators of Europe gave the foundation and their team the best Bon Voyage possible.

Cliff Stump, who landed on Omaha Beach via glider on D-Day, has never experienced a terminal welcome like he did today.

“I’ve enjoyed this terminal more than any other I’ve been in,” Stump said. “You guys did a lot of work, and we are enjoying every bit of it.”

A historic send-off for a historic charter flight carrying 43 veterans who forged the very chapters of the history books. The 79th Anniversary of D-Day Battlefield Return Program to Normandy will span several ceremonies and events throughout Normandy.

This is the second 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.