News: The 'Lucky' 40: Vets return to Normandy after 70 years
Story by Tech. Sgt. Chrissy Best
PORTSMOUTH, United Kingdom -- Amidst the sea of a mighty applause marched a band of 40 old men, confidently striding through two lines of riflemen as a ceremonial salute was rendered in their honor.
It was June 3, nearly 70 years after the 40 left family and friends to embark on one of the most significant battle of the Second World War.
"Everyone was scared", said Bill Colwell, as he remembered the moments before he stepped on the beach at Normandy. "The last thing I heard before I went out the door, 'look to the left, look to the right, one of you will not see daylight.'"
High above Colwell and his fellow Soldiers storming the blood-soaked beach, Conrad Lohoefer and his B-17 crewmates rained fire and destruction upon the retreating enemy like avenging angels on steel wings.
"I was all of 19 years old when I went in. I flew 35 missions over Germany and I was on my way home before I turned 21," said Lohoefer. "I was very fortunate to survive."
At 90, he still remembers the names and hometowns of his fellow crewmates.
"We were a mixed crew," he said. "They were all very good kids."
Seventy years later, Lohoefer and the rest of the 40 are traveling back to Normandy and paying their respects to the good kids who didn't make it home, resting near where they fell at the Normandy American Cemetery.
"That cemetery in Normandy is impressive, it takes your breath away," he said.
With a sharp salute that contrasted his age, Lohoefer and his comrades marched past the riflemen from the 501st Combat Support Wing Honor Guard, who stood as a silent gateway to an enduring legacy.
"It's a game of chance, I guess. It makes you wonder why they are there and I am here," he said, describing what may be his last trip to Normandy. "How come I am so lucky?"