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‘It means the world to me’: WWII vets return to Normandy in honor of D-Day

Delta pilot Theresa Livingston laughs with World War II veteran Jake Larson at the Hartsfield-Jackson international terminal in Atlanta. (Arvin Temkar / [email protected]/TNS)

Army veteran Andy Negra almost missed his chance to return to the beaches of Normandy because he didn’t have a passport.

Born in Brownsville, Pennsylvania, Negra said the midwife who delivered him didn’t provide a birth certificate. Decades later Sabrina Cornelius, executive assistant in global sales at Delta Air Lines, stepped up to help.

Cornelius was able to help two veterans – Negra and Jimmy Doi – get their passports just weeks before they were scheduled to fly out of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport to Normandy to commemorate Tuesday’s 79th anniversary of D-Day.

World War II veteran Andrew Negra listens to the Dutchtown High School marching band at the Hartsfield-Jackson international terminal in Atlanta. (Arvin Temkar / [email protected]/TNS)

“It is so heartwarming,” Cornelius said. “I’m just so honored. It’s been the thrill of a lifetime to be able to be a small part of this. Just to see them so happy, they are so excited about flying on Delta and going to Normandy.”

The flight is a collaboration between Delta and the Best Defense Foundation and marked the second time a U.S. passenger airline flew directly to Normandy after last year’s flight.

“To give them this opportunity of a lifetime, even at their advanced age, it’s a great honor for us and the rest of my team,” former NFL player and Best Defense Foundation founder and president Donnie Edwards said. “We are truly honored to provide this experience for all the World War II veterans.”

World War II veterans wait to board a flight at the Hartsfield-Jackson international terminal in Atlanta. (Arvin Temkar / [email protected]/TNS)

A total of 43 veterans took the trip. A few fought in Normandy on D-Day, but all served during WWII. The marching band from Dutchtown High School in Henry County led a procession through the airport’s international terminal as others in the terminal applauded and took pictures.

Activities planned for the veterans included an arrival ceremony on June 1 and then a series of dinners, parades, recognition ceremonies and a trip to the beaches of Normandy, Edwards said.

“I’m so happy to see how in tune and how proud the kids are to meet the World War II veterans and connect with them,” he said.

Negra was drafted at 19 “and did what I was told,” he said.

He landed on Utah Beach that July 18 and fought in the Battle of Bulge while serving with the 6th Armored Division. This year was his first return to Normandy in 79 years.

“The strangest thing is when I landed at Utah Beach, I was met by an American that lived four houses away from where I lived in my hometown,” he said.

Before being drafted, Doi lived in California. Shortly after the attacks on Pearl Harbor, Doi was sent to Gila River War Relocation Center in Arizona due to his Asian descent.

He later served in Italy with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Once the war ended in Europe, he reenlisted in the hopes of going to Japan to find his parents, which he did.

Army veteran John “Jack” Foy landed in France after the D-Day invasion, serving with Gen. George Patton’s Third Army. Like Negra, Foy fought in the Battle of Bulge.

“We had secured Normandy by the time we got there,” Foy said. “At that time, everyone was so patriotic, as soon as you were 18, you signed up. That’s what everybody did.”

Foy has been back to France several times but was still excited to go back for the anniversary of D-Day.

“It means the world to me,” he said.


© 2023 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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