After preparing their equipment, conducting rehearsals, and receiving their final briefings, the men of the Allied Airborne Forces boarded their transport aircraft and gliders in England to begin a one-way trip to the province of Normandy, France – and a legendary rendezvous with destiny.

The Final Embarkation: Four ‘stick’ commanders of 22nd Independent Parachute Company, British 6th Airborne Division, synchronising their watches in front of an Armstrong Whitworth Albemarle of 295 Squadron, No 38 Group, Royal Air Force, at about 23.30 on the 5th of June, just prior to take off from RAF Harwell, Oxfordshire. Colour by Colourisedpieceofjake, Source – © IWM H 39070


They were the tip of the spear for the greatest combined operations invasion in history, and a reversal of William the Conqueror’s historic invasion of Britain in 1066. As General Eisenhower himself put it in his address to the entire invasion force on the evening of 5 June 1944:

“You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hope and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.”

Exeter Airfield, England, 5th June 1944. Lt. Col. R Wolverton ( 3rd BN CO, 506th PIR) and 1Lt. A. Bobuck. Lt/ Col Wolverton’s feet never touched French soil. He was killed suspended by his parachute from an apple tree in an orchard just north of the hamlet of St Côme du Mont. 1/Lt Bobuck was captured when he landed on a German Command Post roof, he was liberated on June 8 by the advancing forces on St.Come-du-Mont, and went on to fight at Arnhem and Bastogne. Coloured by Johnny Sirlande for historic photo restored in color.


Shortly after midnight on 6 June, over 18,000 men of the US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions and the British 6th Airborne Division descended from the skies over Normandy and began the hard-fought struggle to liberate Western Europe.

Personnel of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, about to leave for the D-Day transit camp, England, May 1944. Source: Department of National Defence. Library and Archives Canada, e002852749


The men knew that many of them would never return, or that they might return bearing terrible physical (and emotional) scars. Most of them probably expected to at least receive some sort of wound. But they went nonetheless. The paratroopers clambered aboard their aircraft so laden down with equipment, ammunition and rations that needed help from their comrades to get up the few steps into the planes. The men of the glider troops were also loaded with as much as they could carry, and crammed in elbow-to-elbow aboard their flimsy plywood and canvas craft – knowing that a crash landing at the end would be the least of their concerns once they passed over the Normandy coast. But they went, nonetheless.

Airborne troops of 6th Airlanding Brigade admire the graffiti chalked on the side of their Horsa glider at an RAF airfield as they prepare to fly out to Normandy as part of 6th Airborne Division’s second lift on the evening of 6 June 1944. Photo Credit: Malindine E G (Capt), War Office official photographer. © IWM (H 39178)


Today marks the 77th anniversary of those momentous times, and unlike years past, travel and other restrictions have prevented the usual large gatherings and events that mark the D-Day commemorations. But we remember those brave men nonetheless – and we humbly and respectfully thank them for their sacrifices that bought our freedom.

Although the entire 504th did not participate in the invasion of Normandy, a total 24 504th Pathfinders and Paratroopers were amongst the first to jump in on chalks 13-18 just after midnight to establish the DZs for the main assault. One of them, PVT Joseph W. Manfredi E Co 2nd Bn 504th PIR 82nd Pathfinders, is pictured below with Chalk 16, attached to the 1-508th PIR. PVT Manfredi was killed in action on 14 June 1944 in Normandy. Photo credit: 2nd Bn. 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division.