Today marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day, when thousands of World War II soldiers lost their lives to put an end to Nazism.

A delegation of Hopkinsville and Fort Campbell officials, along with active-duty soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division, are in Carentan, France, this week taking part in commemorative services in honor of veterans who served and died June 6, 1944, and beyond.

Wednesday, the group participated in the opening ceremony and parade in Carentan, which also happens to be Hopkinsville's Sister City.

Along with words from Carentan Mayor Jean-Pierre Lhonneur and Commanding Maj. Gen. Brian Winski, the ceremony included a WWII parachute drop that honored the 101st Airborne Division paratroopers who fought the Germans in the cabbage patches surrounding Carentan in June 1944.

Former 101st parachutist Tom Rice, now 97 years old, took his first leap since that fateful day 75 years ago.

Hopkinsville City Councilmember Terry Parker said seeing Rice float from the sky was one of the highlights from the event.

"He got up and spoke, and he did a tandem parachute jump at 97 years old," Parker said, "and you couldn't tell he's that age. The last time he parachuted was June 6, 1944, but he's in great shape today."

Parker said Rice remembered being at Fort Campbell and much about the day he landed into gunfire on the mission at Normandy.

"He's just an interesting individual," Parker said of Rice. "When you talk to them about landing here, they remember a lot about that."

Parker's teenage daughter, Ashlyn Parker, and another local high-schooler, Ellie Colburn, got to march in the parade alongside the French students who visited Hopkinsville in March. Like the French students' trip here, the Hopkinsville delegation -- which also includes Lana Bastin, champion for Fort Campbell; Lindsey Geraci, director of Military Affairs for the Christian County Chamber of Commerce; Brooke Jung, executive director of the Hopkinsville Convention and Visitors Bureau and Chris Jung, City of Hopkinsville marketing and events coordinator -- is staying with host families while visiting Carentan.

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The group got to lay a wreath in honor of Hopkinsville and also make a presentation to Mayor Lhonneur and his delegation on behalf of Hopkinsville, Brooke Jung shared.

"Being able to pay tribute to the soldiers who liberated our new Sister City felt like a family affair, and we are honored to be in France for this milestone celebration," she said. "It is beyond humbling.

Parker said seeing the respect Carentan has for the 101st was awesome, and he was looking forward to today's D-Day anniversary ceremony.

"The love and affection they have for our military is unbelievable," he said. "There are people here dressed up as WWII soldiers and all types of equipment that's been preserved was in the parade."

Back in Hopkinsville, Veterans of Foreign Wars Honor Guard Commander Quentin Stone said he hopes to pass down war history and respect for veterans to local youth. He didn't know of any commemorative services that would be taking place in town today, but he said it's important to never forget what those soldiers did 75 years ago.

"I'm going to reflect on the 3,000 men that we lost that day," Stone said. "I feel so bad because the people that are in school don't learn about this history today. That's not acceptable to me. We've got to know why we did this and why we sacrificed over 150,000 Americans to fight against Nazism. We've got to keep reminding people that there is evil in the world and why we do what we do. ... Whether it's the Korean War or the anniversary of the end of WWI last year, I think it's important that all veterans get military honors."

Reach Zirconia Alleyne at 270-887-3243 or zalleyne@kentuckynewera.com.

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