CSAF, CMSAF honor D-Day veterans at MacDill for 75th anniversary

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Ryan C. Grossklag
  • 6th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

The sea provided no compassion for the brave men aboard, tension builds with every rock of the boat on every wave. Soldiers, cramped together, felt more like sardines as the mist of saltwater continually splashed their faces. Minutes began to feel like hours in that lock-tight vessel, but land soon approached and the tension broke with the sound of both allied and Nazi gunfire. Some of those who recount their story claim that the only thing on their mind was, “just keep moving forward.”

On June 6th, 1944, led by Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, 156,000 allied forces began their assault on fives beaches, stretching along 50 miles of coast at Normandy, France deeply held by Nazi Germany. Through strength and fortitude, forces spent months plowing through opposition with a goal of the liberation of Europe. D-Day is considered the turning point in World War II as the Nazis never recovered, and ultimately fell to the Allied forces.

To celebrate the 75th anniversary of this crucial event in world history, MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., will honor and thank 11 WWII veterans who reside in the Tampa Bay community during a commemoration ceremony, June 6th, 2019. The commemoration coincides with Corona South, a week-long gathering of senior Air Force leaders including Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein and Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright, who will speak at the ceremony.


Air mobility proved absolutely vital in the late hours leading up to June 6th, 1944, as troop carrier aircraft, such as the Douglas C-47A Skytrain aircraft piloted by Army Air Corps 1st Lt. Gerald “Bud” Berry, took to the skies to release paratroopers behind enemy lines in Normandy. Berry is among the WWII veterans to be honored during MacDill’s ceremony, and his wartime contribution helped prove the absolute necessity of air superiority.

“Our task in the 439th Troop Carrier Group was to carry in part of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division,” said Berry. “The mission was scheduled during darkness and we didn’t drop our troopers until right around midnight June 6th.”

Altogether, the flight was around four hours from England to Normandy and back, with Berry and the rest of the group facing issues with weather and enemy fire from the ground upon approach, said Berry.

“We crossed over the coast of France and at that time we ran into a cloudbank, making it impossible to stay in formation,” said Berry. “There was some break-up of the squadrons and as a result troopers weren’t dropped at their initial targets; but we knew what we were doing as we had trained and on the ground they got the job done.”

During the mission, his C-47 was hit with .30 caliber bullets that ripped a hole in one of the wings. Fortunately, Berry survived and was awarded the Air Medal for dropping paratroopers behind enemy lines. The aircraft next to his in the formation was shot down on that mission and never recovered.

Another honored guest at the commemoration will be U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Harley Reynolds, 16th Infantry Regiment combat gunner. Leaving from the USS Chase, Reynolds stormed Omaha Beach early and became the first person to penetrate the Nazi German barbed wire.

Laying down in the water for approximately two hours, waiting for the opportunity to move, Reynolds and his company took fire from Axis soldiers. Another soldier attempted to light a Bangalore torpedo explosive to clear the barbed wire but was not successful. Upon the second attempt, the torpedo lit, blowing a hole through the fence, though the fellow soldier was shot and killed when moving away from the explosive.

“That man was the hero of it all,” said Reynolds. “The Bangalore ripped a hole in the barbed wire big enough to drive a semi-truck through and I immediately got to moving forward.”

The soldiers faced the obstacles of avoiding trip mines that were scattered along the beach, while German soldiers shot relentlessly at the company.

“We kept thinking, ‘just keep moving and get in-land,’” said Reynolds of the daunting task. “We stressed and trained for this day because the only answer is to keep moving.”

Reynolds and his company courageously fought in-land, advancing approximately one mile through the first day. Reynolds acknowledges that the significance of D-Day marked the beginning of the end of WWII, paving the way for more Allied forces to land in Normandy and ultimately defeat Nazi Germany.

When MacDill Air Force Base opened as MacDill Field in 1941, it became home to the Third Air Force, which oversaw operations across Europe. Its primary missions were to protect the Gulf of Mexico and house troop carrier and bomber aircraft that could train pilots to aid overseas. In the thick of WWII, the 50th Troop Carrier Squadron, now the 50th Air Refueling Squadron at MacDill, flew their C-47 Skytrains into combat for the invasion of Sicily, Italy, following their heroism during the D-Day invasion.

Remembering these sacrifices, MacDill will recognize 11 brave men and women for their selfless service to protect the U.S. in WWII. Their honorable commitment paved the past, present and future of America’s armed forces