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Kentucky Air National Guard unit to be part of the 75th anniversary D-Day ceremony in Normandy

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

The Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Airlift Wing is deploying more than 30 Airmen and two C-130 Hercules aircraft to Europe on Saturday where they will be the only National Guard unit in the country that will take part in the 75th-anniversary reenactment of D-Day.

On June 9, the Kentucky Airmen will airdrop U.S. Army paratroopers over Normandy, France, in commemoration of one of the most significant days of the 20th Century. More than 160,000 Allied troops crossed the English Channel by air and sea during the opening days of Operation Overlord in 1944, successfully invading German-occupied Western Europe and marking the beginning of the end of World War II in the European theater.

Members of the 123rd Maintenance Squadron stand in front of a 123rd Airlift Wing C-130 Hercules at the Kentucky Air National Guard base in Louisville. The Airmen applied historic decals to the C-130, which will fly in the 75th anniversary of D-Day over Normandy, France, in June. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Phil Speck)

“The gargantuan scale of the D-Day invasion and the sacrifice that these guys made back then is hard to fathom,” said Lt. Col. Randall Hood, a C-130 pilot and commander of Kentucky’s 123rd Operations Support Squadron. “The fact that we will have an opportunity to honor the people who actually did this 75 years ago is very humbling.”

Dozens of organizations from across the U.S. military will be participating in the observance, but Kentucky’s 123rd Airlift Wing will be the only Air National Guard unit to take part. In addition to providing airdrop capability, the wing will play a support role on the ground with Airmen from its 123rd Contingency Response Group.

A Kentucky aircraft participating in the reenactment has even been decorated with authentic makings so that it will appear in the same livery as Allied aircraft from 75 years ago.

“I’m very proud to be part of this momentous event,” said Master Sgt. Adam Keller, a Mission Planning Cell loadmaster with the group. “We’re very excited to be the only Air National Guard contingency response unit on the ground in France to support the units there, and to honor those who fought and paid the ultimate price 75 years ago.”

For Lt. Col. Randall Hood, commander of the 123rd Operations Support Squadron, World War II has special significance.  

“I’m named after my great uncle, who was a B-17 top turret gunner.  He was shot down December 31, 1943, and didn’t make it back.  I’ve carried his legacy throughout my flying career.”

He was also among those who encouraged the use of the World War II markings.  

“The stripes just add that little something extra, the weight of what you’re about to be part of,” Hood stated. “When you carry those stripes, you’re a part of something that is much, much bigger than what you are.”

Black and white stripes were painted on Allied aircraft during World War II to reduce the chance they would be attacked by friendly forces during Operation Overlord, the formal name of the D-Day invasion.  In 1944 the stripes were mostly painted by Allied troops using brushes and whatever else they could find because orders to paint them weren’t issued until just a few days before the invasion to keep it secret from the German Luftwaffe.

In addition to 20 members of the Kentucky Air Guard’s Airlift Squadron and 123rd Maintenance Squadron, the wing’s 123rd Contingency Response Group will provide 12 Airmen for ground support of units flying in the event.

According to Master Sgt. Adam Keller, of the 123rd CRG, the unit will provide command and control personnel to send up situational reports to higher headquarters. A communications package will also be deployed, to provide satellite communications, internet connectivity and radio support for aircraft-to-aircraft and aircraft-to-ground communications.

“I’m very proud to be part of this momentous reenactment,” said Keller. “We’re very excited to be the only Air Guard contingency response on the ground in France, and to honor those who fought and paid the ultimate price 75 years ago.”

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