AMFREVILLE, France — At the top of a small hill here there is a 15-foot-tall concrete memorial framed on each side by the American and French flags. On the face of the memorial is a life-sized image carved in stone of a U.S. Army paratrooper descending from the sky.
This small French town of just more than 1,000 residents played host to 94 American servicemembers, war buffs and veterans during a ceremony commemorating the 65th anniversary of D-Day, June 4. Twenty servicemembers from U.S. Air Forces in Europe and a U.S. Army Europe honor guard were joined by 26 members of the U.S. Naval Forces Europe Band and 48 other Soldiers during the event honoring still-surviving World War II veterans, those who fought to liberate France, and those who lost their lives in the historic town.
Nearly two dozen World War II veterans attended the event as well.
"I have come out here every year I could to participate in the commemorative jumps, but they pulled my wings for this one," said 84-year-old veteran Kenneth Kasse, who served in the 17th Airborne Division. "I am getting too old. But we are not the heroes here."
Like many of the remaining veterans, Kasse -- who served in the 17th as Pfc. Kasse -- is modest about his contributions to the success of the war and the liberation of Europe.
Amfreville is one of many locations in the Normandy region that was significant in the campaigns following D-Day, and its residents and the remaining veterans have not forgotten its importance.
It is the location where Gen. Matthew Ridgway ordered the 325th Glider Inantry Regiment to take and establish a vital bridgehead on the west bank of the Merderet River. The primary mission of paratroopers who landed in Amfreville on D-Day was to secure or destroy certain bridges that crossed the Douve and Merderet rivers and ran to Utah Beach.
"Portions of land around the Merderet River Valley were flooded with Germans to hinder airborne operations," said Brig. Gen. Jon J. Miller, deputy commanding general of the 21st Theater Sustainment Command, who was a guest speaker at the event. "Many paratroopers drowned here in the dark of that night."
"To those remaining veterans, thank you for creating a future to follow, an example of selfless service, and thank you for the gift of freedom you secured for France, Europe and the World. We honor you," the general said.
"We jumped and landed here this morning," said Chris Koers, a member of the Dutch Society of Airborne Friends and native of Noblesville, Indiana. "I got four pounds of sand from Omaha and Utah when we landed. We jumped out of a C-47, the same plane at the same point these veterans jumped from 65 years ago. After(ward), I cried like a baby."
Success in battle in this small town came at a price but it led the way for the relief of paratroopers on Utah Beach and up the Normandy coast.
"How could we forget these troops, some who lost their lives and dreams at the young age of 22?" asked Mayor Maurice Gidon. "Freedom is not granted once and for all, sometimes you have to fight for it and they gave their lives so we could have our freedom."
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