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AF Reservists, Army, British soldiers honor French village for D-Day support

U.S. Soldiers and Airmen, together with British paratroopers, march in formation June 1, 2012 through Picauville, France as part of ceremonial events commemorating the 68th Anniversary of the Normandy D-Day invasion. The U.S. military members, led by Maj. Gen. Wallace W. "Wade" Farris Jr., laid a wreath in honor of fallen aircrews and paratroopers who perished during the invasion of France. Later, U.S. and British forces dined with members of the Picauville community where they honored the village for their continued remembrance of the Allied invasion forces. Farris is the 22nd Air Force commander, an Air Force Reserve organization. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Stephen J. Collier)

U.S. Soldiers and Airmen, together with British paratroopers, march in formation June 1, 2012 through Picauville, France as part of ceremonial events commemorating the 68th Anniversary of the Normandy D-Day invasion. The U.S. military members, led by Maj. Gen. Wallace W. "Wade" Farris Jr., laid a wreath in honor of fallen aircrews and paratroopers who perished during the invasion of France. Later, U.S. and British forces dined with members of the Picauville community where they honored the village for their continued remembrance of the Allied invasion forces. Farris is the 22nd Air Force commander, an Air Force Reserve organization. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Stephen J. Collier)

U.S. Soldiers and Airmen, together with British paratroopers, march in formation June 1, 2012 through Picauville, France as part of ceremonial events commemorating the 68th Anniversary of the Normandy D-Day invasion. The U.S. military members, led by Air Force Reserve Maj. Gen. Wallace W. "Wade" Farris Jr., laid a wreath in honor of fallen aircrews and paratroopers who perished during the invasion of France. Later, U.S. and British forces dined with members of the Picauville community where they honored the village for their continued remembrance of the Allied invasion forces. Farris is the 22nd Air Force commander, an Air Force Reserve organization. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Stephen J. Collier)

U.S. Soldiers and Airmen, together with British paratroopers, march in formation June 1, 2012 through Picauville, France as part of ceremonial events commemorating the 68th Anniversary of the Normandy D-Day invasion. The U.S. military members, led by Air Force Reserve Maj. Gen. Wallace W. "Wade" Farris Jr., laid a wreath in honor of fallen aircrews and paratroopers who perished during the invasion of France. Later, U.S. and British forces dined with members of the Picauville community where they honored the village for their continued remembrance of the Allied invasion forces. Farris is the 22nd Air Force commander, an Air Force Reserve organization. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Stephen J. Collier)

Air Force Reserve Lt. Col. Ed Strickland (center) and members of his family look over the engine of a crashed C-47 Skytrain transport June 1, 2012 in Picauville, France. U.S. and allied forces attended a commemorative ceremony in the town square honoring the Airmen and soldiers who lost their lives when their C-47 aircraft was brought down by German anti-aircraft artillery at 1:20 a.m., June 6, 1944 as part of the famous Normandy D-Day invasion of France. Strickland is a C-130 Hercules navigator assigned to the 302nd Airlift Wing at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. Members of the Air Force Reserve Command's 302nd, 910th and 440th Airlift Wings took part in this year's 68th Anniversary commemoration of the historic invasion. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Stephen J. Collier)

Air Force Reserve Lt. Col. Ed Strickland (center) and members of his family look over the engine of a crashed C-47 Skytrain transport June 1, 2012 in Picauville, France. U.S. and allied forces attended a commemorative ceremony in the town square honoring the Airmen and soldiers who lost their lives when their C-47 aircraft was brought down by German anti-aircraft artillery at 1:20 a.m., June 6, 1944 as part of the famous Normandy D-Day invasion of France. Strickland is a C-130 Hercules navigator assigned to the 302nd Airlift Wing at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. Members of the Air Force Reserve Command's 302nd, 910th and 440th Airlift Wings took part in this year's 68th Anniversary commemoration of the historic invasion. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Stephen J. Collier)

Air Force Reserve Maj. Gen. Wallace W. "Wade" Farris Jr. lays a memorial wreath June 1, 2012, on a memorial dedicated to fallen World War II U.S. aircrews and paratroopers in Picauville, France. U.S. Soldiers and Airmen, together with British paratroopers, took part in the ceremonial event commemorating the 68th Anniversary of the Normandy D-Day invasion. Later, U.S. and British forces dined with members of the Picauville community where they honored the village for their continued remembrance of the Allied invasion forces. Farris is the 22nd Air Force commander, an Air Force Reserve organization. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Stephen J. Collier)

Air Force Reserve Maj. Gen. Wallace W. "Wade" Farris Jr. lays a memorial wreath June 1, 2012, on a memorial dedicated to fallen World War II U.S. aircrews and paratroopers in Picauville, France. U.S. Soldiers and Airmen, together with British paratroopers, took part in the ceremonial event commemorating the 68th Anniversary of the Normandy D-Day invasion. Later, U.S. and British forces dined with members of the Picauville community where they honored the village for their continued remembrance of the Allied invasion forces. Farris is the 22nd Air Force commander, an Air Force Reserve organization. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Stephen J. Collier)

Air Force Lt. Col. John Lacy speaks with a World War II veteran June 1, 2012, in Picauville, France. U.S. and allied forces attended a commemorative ceremony in the Picauville town square honoring the Airmen and soldiers who lost their lives during the famous Normandy D-Day invasion. Both the Airmen and soldiers were killed when their C-47 aircraft was brought down by German anti-aircraft artillery at 1:20 a.m., June 6, 1944 during the invasion of France. Lacy is the assistant U.S. air attaché to France with the Defense Attaché Office in Paris. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Stephen J. Collier)

Air Force Lt. Col. John Lacy speaks with a World War II veteran June 1, 2012, in Picauville, France. U.S. and allied forces attended a commemorative ceremony in the Picauville town square honoring the Airmen and soldiers who lost their lives during the famous Normandy D-Day invasion. Both the Airmen and soldiers were killed when their C-47 aircraft was brought down by German anti-aircraft artillery at 1:20 a.m., June 6, 1944 during the invasion of France. Lacy is the assistant U.S. air attaché to France with the Defense Attaché Office in Paris. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Stephen J. Collier)

PICAUVILLE, France -- Air Force Reservists and other U.S .and Allied military members paid their respects to the people of this small French village June 1 as part of a number of ceremonies recognizing the 68th Anniversary of the Normandy D-Day invasion.

Airmen from the Air Forced Reserve Command's 302nd, 910th and 440th Airlift Wings, led by Maj. Gen. Wallace "Wade" Farris, Jr., as well as members of the Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team and British paratroopers, marched through the village where they laid a wreath in remembrance of those Airmen and Soldiers who paid the ultimate price in liberating Europe. Later, service members joined together with local residents in the village's sports complex to break bread as well as share stories and even crack a few jokes.

"We are dedicated to remembering the sacrifices of the Airmen and U.S. Army Soldiers who liberated us," said Eric Labourdette, communication manager for Picauville Remembers, a group that volunteers to maintain the heritage and remembrance of the community's D-Day ties, specifically for Allied aircraft that crashed in the area. "We help ensure the Troop Carrier Monument here in Picauville stands as a remembrance to those U.S. military who gave their lives for France."

After music, food, and even a little wine, Farris and other Air Force Reservists presented Picauville Mayor, Philippe Christine with a custom "shadow box," or collection of Air Force mementos unique to each of the wings represented. Christine said it's important to continue hosting events like this "because the story is important."

"The fact that men died here for our liberty," the mayor said, "it's the most important thing for us to keep the memory (alive) and to say to our children what are the facts with history and what importance the landing of (the) U.S. Army (had) to give us our liberty," the mayor said.

The mayor has highlighted the unique relationship the U.S. shares with France, going back to the American Revolution and France's commitment to the new nation. He said the U.S.' liberation of France only cemented the nation's unique ties.

Earlier in the day, active duty Airmen from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, took part in a remembrance ceremony in Picauville's town square. The gathering brought out more than 200 local residents, World War II re-enactors and children from a nearby school who lit one candle each for those men who gave their lives for freedom after being brought down in the Picauville area.

Maintaining the unique relationship the Air Force Reserve has with this town of 2,008, thousands of miles away, helps keep the fighting spirit of D-Day alive year after year. Several organizations in the AF Reserve that existed in the early 1940s took part in aerial operations against the German war machine, but it was the 440th AW that maintains a direct link to the first American boots that touched French soil.

In June 1944, C-47 "Skytrain" aircraft assigned to the-then 440th Troop Carrier Group took off from Exeter, England, late on June 5. On board those transports were 101st Airborne paratroopers heading directly for the hedge groves of Normandy. The unique heritage of the 440th AW to the D-Day ceremonies aren't lost on the Airmen assigned to the wing today, nor on Farris, who commands 22nd Air Force, the organization that oversees wings like the 440th.

"It makes you feel good to be an American," said Farris, commenting on the hospitality of Picauville residents. "But it makes me feel good for the men and women who sacrificed their lives to free France. The veterans who were here today, it means a lot to them as well. We're all able to remember those Americans and what they did here 68 years ago."

Farris, who has flown transport aircraft like the C-130 Hercules for more than 11 years, said the thought of flying a C-47 into the conditions pilots did on D-Day is something that hasn't escaped him.

"Think about the C-47 pilots who flew into very arduous conditions: the weather wasn't the best, you have to 'jeek' and 'jive' to get to the target, you had a hard time finding the target, you had to deal with the flak and you're watching your fellow brethren get shot down at the same time. You think about that and you try to measure yourself up and being able to maintain a track to the drop zone ... I've thought about that a few times."

And for Christine, he's confident having events like this will ensure no one in his community, especially those young school children, will forget what transpired on June 6, 1944.

"Even in the ceremony, we have (a) magnificent exhibition, but not spectacular for the cinema, not the story, but for the memory. And when you are a child, it's also spectacular."

The anniversary events will culminate for the Air Force on June 3 when they drop more than 350 Allied paratroopers from several aircraft, bringing alive once again the heritage of the U.S. Air Force.

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