Women veterans return to Normandy for 80th D-Day anniversary

Among the returning veterans are two "Rosie the Riveters."

ByKelly Hagan via GMA logo
June 4, 2024, 9:57 AM

U.S. veterans and families are traveling to Normandy on the northwest coast of France to pay their respects and commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day, when the U.S. and Allied forces invaded Europe during World War II back on June 6, 1944.

American Airlines tracked down the last living World War II veterans and offered to fly them to Normandy, and when the day came earlier this week, there were just 68 heroes who could travel on that flight.

The World War II veterans are now between the ages of 96 and 107. Many were headed back to that fateful place for the first time since they first saw the horrors of war as young adults. They were all celebrated before they boarded the American Airlines charter, adorned with American flags, at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport.

A group of U.S. World War II veterans, including three women, traveled to the Normandy region of France to commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day.
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Only three women veterans were able to make it on the momentous trip, including Jeanne Gibson, a 98-year-old who was part of the group of women who became known as "Rosie the Riveters," who played a critical role during World War II and were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in April.

Jeanne Gibson, now 98, was 18 when she joined as a “Rosie the Riveter” and worked as a welder at a Seattle shipyard during World War II.
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Gibson was only 18 years old when she became a "Rosie" and left college to go work as a welder in a Seattle shipyard, one of 6 million women who put their lives on hold to take essential jobs for the war effort, such as building war planes and battleships.

"It takes somebody who can say 'I can do it' to do it," Gibson said of the war effort at the time.

Gibson still works at the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California, giving tours. She says she especially loves reminding young girls that "they can do it."

Connie Palacioz, 99, is another "Rosie" who joined the special journey to Normandy. Like Gibson, Palacioz joined at 18 and served as a "Rosie" for four years, working on B-17 planes.

Connie Palacioz, 99, served as a “Rosie the Riveter” for four years and worked on B-17 planes.
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At 100, Marjorie Stone from Amherst, Massachusetts, is the oldest of the three women on the trip.

Marjorie Stone, a 100-year-old World War II veteran, is one of dozens of U.S. veterans being honored in France ahead of the 80th D-Day anniversary.
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"You wanted to be doing something. It meant a lot to do that," Stone recalled of her decision to join the war effort.

When all three women joined, it was the first time in the nation's history that all U.S. military branches allowed women to enlist. More than 350,000 women answered the call at the time.

The Rosie the Riveters were among the many Women Ordnance Workers -- government-contracted civilians -- who worked alongside their uniformed counterparts in the Navy's Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service arm, or WAVES, and the Women’s Army Corps, or WAC, to assist with the war effort. The Ordnance Department workers, known as WOWs, "wore WOW bandannas, designed in accordance with U.S. Army specification, to be easily identified," according to the U.S. Army website.

While a total of 85,000 women "worked directly for the Ordnance Department," the Army states, "the Rosie the Riveter movement helped push the number of working women to 20 million during the four years of World War II."

"I feel like we started something. There were no women in at that point and we started it, and look where women are now. So, we started something," Stone said.

American Airlines Captain Timothy Raynor told "GMA" ahead of the flight, "The amount of history that's going to be in the back of this plane, it's just unparalleled. Probably like nothing we will ever see in our careers again."

After the flight landed in Paris, the veterans visited one of several American cemeteries in France, and 107-year-old Reynolds L. Tomter, who served as an aerial gunner during World War II, was given the honor of laying a wreath.

"Believe in America, for sure. There is no greater place," Tomter said.

In Normandy, the veterans were greeted by local French residents, who were excited to see the men and women who helped liberate their country in the 1940s. The veterans were also escorted to the World War II Memorial Museum, where local children greeted them and they were treated to special music, including "The U.S. Air Force."

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