Return to D-Day: 35 Men, 70 Landings at Normandy

Since 2004, The Greatest Generations Foundation has offered veterans the opportunity to return to their battlefields at no cost to them. These voyages are often emotional, providing aging veterans a long-overdue method of dealing with their war experiences, a chance to re-kindle pride in their service and sacrifices, and a venue to educate others.

In Return to D-Day, readers share in the stories of 35 such men, accompanied by John Riedy’s striking photographs that capture the raw emotions of their return to a pivotal battlefield of World War II in Europe. These are tough men who did things in war that often seem impossible today, things that needed doing if the world was to shake free of Nazi tyranny. Standing on Normandy Beaches, once among the bloodiest battlegrounds of military history, they humbly reflect on those events with acute and incisive hindsight. These men changed the course of history.

PARATROOPS: To deter enemy counter-attacks and to seize vital objectives inland from the D-Day landing beaches, the Allies staged pre-dawn jumps by some 24,000 paratroopers. They were followed by daylight glider missions carrying airborne infantry to support the paratroops. The spearhead units were the American 82nd and 101st th Airborne Division composed of British and Canadian paratroops.

Private Alvin R. Henderson, USA

Private Alvin R. Henderson Rifleman and Former Prisoner of War 
501st Parachute Infantry Regiment 101st Airborne Division
VII Corps

Private Alvin R. Henderson was a volunteer for the parachute infantry when he completed his basic training. He joined the Screaming Eagles of the elite 101st Airborne Division for service in the European Theater st Parachute jump on D-Day. After an intense period of training in England, the 501st PIR took off in a huge formation of C-47 aircraft on the evening of June 5, 1944 and headed — ious landings were scheduled to begin on the Normandy beaches. The aircraft carrying Alvin and his fellow para- troopers were widely scattered due to a combination of low 501st managed to make landing zones north and east of the enemy-held city of Carentan, where they were immediately involved in intense combat with German defenders. Things did not go as planned, but because the paratroopers were well prepared, trained, and rehearsed, the regiment accom- plished its multiple missions.

After a period of rest and retraining in England, Alvin returned with his unit to make the parachute assault into there, he walked into a German ambush and was captured.

When many years later, Alvin attended a reunion of the 101st, no one there recognized him. When he told them his name, shocked faces looked back at him — they thought he had died during Market Garden. During his return to Normandy in 2010, Alvin spoke about having a clear conscience about the war. He said, “Every day when I shave, I can look in the mirror and know I did what I was supposed to do.”

Excerpted from Return to D-Day: 35 Men, 70 Landings at Normandy, a Warriors Publishing Group book published by arrangement with The Greatest Generations Foundation. A portion of the proceeds benefit The Greatest Generations Foundation.

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