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Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO supreme commander, lays a wreath at the 9th Air Force Memorial at a 70th anniversary D-Day commemoration, June 5, 2014, in Picauville, France.

Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO supreme commander, lays a wreath at the 9th Air Force Memorial at a 70th anniversary D-Day commemoration, June 5, 2014, in Picauville, France. (Joshua L. DeMotts/Stars and Stripes)

Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO supreme commander, lays a wreath at the 9th Air Force Memorial at a 70th anniversary D-Day commemoration, June 5, 2014, in Picauville, France.

Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO supreme commander, lays a wreath at the 9th Air Force Memorial at a 70th anniversary D-Day commemoration, June 5, 2014, in Picauville, France. (Joshua L. DeMotts/Stars and Stripes)

Children release balloons that carry the names of U.S. soldiers who died during the D-Day invasion at a 70th anniversary D-Day commemoration at the 9th Air Force Memorial at Picauville, France, June 5, 2014.

Children release balloons that carry the names of U.S. soldiers who died during the D-Day invasion at a 70th anniversary D-Day commemoration at the 9th Air Force Memorial at Picauville, France, June 5, 2014. (Joshua L. DeMotts/Stars and Stripes)

Balloons carrying the names of  U.S. soldiers who died during the D-Day invasion were released at a 70th anniversary D-Day commemoration at the 9th Air Force Memorial at Picauville, France, June 5, 2014.

Balloons carrying the names of U.S. soldiers who died during the D-Day invasion were released at a 70th anniversary D-Day commemoration at the 9th Air Force Memorial at Picauville, France, June 5, 2014. (Joshua L. DeMotts/Stars and Stripes)

A World War II re-enactor waves at an MC-130 as it flies by during a 70th anniversary D-Day commemoration at the 9th Air Force Memorial at Picauville, France, June 5, 2014.

A World War II re-enactor waves at an MC-130 as it flies by during a 70th anniversary D-Day commemoration at the 9th Air Force Memorial at Picauville, France, June 5, 2014. (Joshua L. DeMotts/Stars and Stripes)

A World War II veteran salutes a young admirer during a 70th anniversary D-Day commemoration at the 9th Air Force Memorial at Picauville, France, June 5, 2014.

A World War II veteran salutes a young admirer during a 70th anniversary D-Day commemoration at the 9th Air Force Memorial at Picauville, France, June 5, 2014. (Joshua L. DeMotts/Stars and Stripes)

An MC-130 performs a fly-by during a 70th anniversary D-Day commemoration at the 9th Air Force Memorial at Picauville, France, June 5, 2014.

An MC-130 performs a fly-by during a 70th anniversary D-Day commemoration at the 9th Air Force Memorial at Picauville, France, June 5, 2014. (Joshua L. DeMotts/Stars and Stripes)

Spectators atop a city fountain seek a better view at an unveiling ceremony at the 9th Air Force monument at Picauville, France, Thursday, June 5, 2014. The ceremony, part of the 70th anniversary of D-Day commemorations, featured Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, commander of U.S. European Command and NATO?s supreme commander, as one of the speakers,  American servicemembers in formation, aircraft flyovers and a parachute jump from a C-47 airplane.

Spectators atop a city fountain seek a better view at an unveiling ceremony at the 9th Air Force monument at Picauville, France, Thursday, June 5, 2014. The ceremony, part of the 70th anniversary of D-Day commemorations, featured Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, commander of U.S. European Command and NATO?s supreme commander, as one of the speakers, American servicemembers in formation, aircraft flyovers and a parachute jump from a C-47 airplane. (Michael Abrams/Stars and Stripes)

World War II veteran Leif Maseng signs his autograph for Richard-Junior Anger, at an unveiling ceremony at the 9th Air Force monument at Picauville, France, Thursday, June 5, 2014. The ceremony, part of the 70th anniversary of D-Day commemorations, featured Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, commander of U.S. European Command and NATO?s supreme commander, as one of the speakers, aircraft flyovers and a parachute jump from a C-47 airplane.

World War II veteran Leif Maseng signs his autograph for Richard-Junior Anger, at an unveiling ceremony at the 9th Air Force monument at Picauville, France, Thursday, June 5, 2014. The ceremony, part of the 70th anniversary of D-Day commemorations, featured Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, commander of U.S. European Command and NATO?s supreme commander, as one of the speakers, aircraft flyovers and a parachute jump from a C-47 airplane. (Michael Abrams/Stars and Stripes)

American servicemenbers salute during the playing of the national anthems at an unveiling ceremony at the 9th Air Force monument at Picauville, France, Thursday, June 5, 2014. The ceremony, part of the 70th anniversary of D-Day commemorations, featured Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, commander of U.S. European Command and NATO?s supreme commander, as one of the speakers, aircraft flyovers and a parachute jump from a C-47 airplane.

American servicemenbers salute during the playing of the national anthems at an unveiling ceremony at the 9th Air Force monument at Picauville, France, Thursday, June 5, 2014. The ceremony, part of the 70th anniversary of D-Day commemorations, featured Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, commander of U.S. European Command and NATO?s supreme commander, as one of the speakers, aircraft flyovers and a parachute jump from a C-47 airplane. (Michael Abrams/Stars and Stripes)

World War II veterans were the center of attention at an unveiling ceremony at the 9th Air Force monument at Picauville, France, Thursday, June 5, 2014. The ceremony, part of the 70th anniversary of D-Day commemorations, featured Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, commander of U.S. European Command and NATO?s supreme commander, as one of the speakers,  American servicemembers in formation, aircraft flyovers and a parachute jump from a C-47 airplane.

World War II veterans were the center of attention at an unveiling ceremony at the 9th Air Force monument at Picauville, France, Thursday, June 5, 2014. The ceremony, part of the 70th anniversary of D-Day commemorations, featured Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, commander of U.S. European Command and NATO?s supreme commander, as one of the speakers, American servicemembers in formation, aircraft flyovers and a parachute jump from a C-47 airplane. (Michael Abrams/Stars and Stripes)

A 70th anniversary of D-Day patch adorns the flight suit of one of the airmen participating in an unveiling ceremony at the 9th Air Force monument at Picauville, France, Thursday, June 5, 2014. The ceremony, part of the 70th anniversary of D-Day commemorations, featured commander of U.S. European Command and NATO Supreme Allied Commander Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove as one of the speakers, aircraft flyovers and a parachute jump from a C-47 airplane.

A 70th anniversary of D-Day patch adorns the flight suit of one of the airmen participating in an unveiling ceremony at the 9th Air Force monument at Picauville, France, Thursday, June 5, 2014. The ceremony, part of the 70th anniversary of D-Day commemorations, featured commander of U.S. European Command and NATO Supreme Allied Commander Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove as one of the speakers, aircraft flyovers and a parachute jump from a C-47 airplane. (Michael Abrams/Stars and Stripes)

World War II veterans were the center of attention at an unveiling ceremony at the 9th Air Force monument at Picauville, France, Thursday, June 5, 2014. The ceremony, part of the 70th anniversary of D-Day commemorations, featured Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, commander of U.S. European Command and NATO?s supreme commander, as one of the speakers,  American servicemembers in formation, aircraft flyovers and a parachute jump from a C-47 airplane.

World War II veterans were the center of attention at an unveiling ceremony at the 9th Air Force monument at Picauville, France, Thursday, June 5, 2014. The ceremony, part of the 70th anniversary of D-Day commemorations, featured Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, commander of U.S. European Command and NATO?s supreme commander, as one of the speakers, American servicemembers in formation, aircraft flyovers and a parachute jump from a C-47 airplane. (Michael Abrams/Stars and Stripes)

A U.S. Air Force MC-130 aircraft passes the Picauville, France, church steeple while performing a flyover at an unveiling ceremony at the 9th Air Force monument at Picauville, Thursday, June 5, 2014. The ceremony, part of the 70th anniversary of D-Day commemorations, featured Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, commander of U.S. European Command and NATO?s supreme commander, as one of the speakers, the flyovers and a parachute jump from a C-47 airplane.

A U.S. Air Force MC-130 aircraft passes the Picauville, France, church steeple while performing a flyover at an unveiling ceremony at the 9th Air Force monument at Picauville, Thursday, June 5, 2014. The ceremony, part of the 70th anniversary of D-Day commemorations, featured Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, commander of U.S. European Command and NATO?s supreme commander, as one of the speakers, the flyovers and a parachute jump from a C-47 airplane. (Michael Abrams/Stars and Stripes)

PICAUVILLE, France — In the middle of the night 70 years ago, residents of this town woke to the roar of aircraft engines, the thunder of German flak guns, a crash and the screams of dying Americans.

Those were the first casualties of D-Day, according to the lore here, where a new memorial to Americans who died in the air assault on Normandy was unveiled Thursday.

With American C-130 cargo planes buzzing low overhead, French officials said the crash was a horror, but also brought joy to the people because they realized that their liberators had arrived.

“This community remembers the liberation, as do others across Europe,” said U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, commander of U.S. European Command and NATO’s supreme allied commander.

Breedlove was one of more than 200 members of the U.S. military at the ceremony, one of the hundreds of commemorations being held this week in Normandy in remembrance of the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion that led to the downfall of Nazi Germany.

Nearly a thousand people turned out here to watch as French and American officials and the daughters of two World War II pilots unveiled the memorial, which stands next to a memorial to the 9th Air Force, a model of a C-47 troop transport and the remains of one of the engines of the plane that crashed here in the opening moments of the Allied assault.

“You honor the sacrifices made here, and you did not forget the heroes who rest below your soil,” Breedlove said.

Nearly 50 World War II veterans from every branch of service attended the dedication. They were treated like rock stars by locals, officials, re-enactors and tourists who crowded in to get autographs from the men who fought here 70 years ago.

While many were remembering the war, Navy veteran Joe Jackson, 88, said, “I try to forget it.”

That’s easier said than done, though.

“I remember shooting a gun, I remember dropping depth charges and I remember picking up a few of the dead bodies and took the dog tags off and we buried them at sea,” Jackson said.

He also remembers when his ship, a destroyer, hit a mine in the English Channel and limped back to England.

This was his second trip to France since the war, he said, and he came back “to heal the wounds and to see why you were sacrificing your life.”

The Europeans he’s met in those trips, “have been real good, people have been real fine, and appreciative,” he said. “So I say it was worth it.”

millham.matthew@stripes.com Twitter: @mattmillham


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