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D-Day on the mind of many during the 75th anniversary celebration at the Air Zoo Thursday

Air Zoo.jpg
Air Zoo. (WWMT/Jorge Rodas)

Allied troops stormed the beaches of Nazi-occupied Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944, in what is still the largest amphibious invasion in history.

Rick Kaiser spent Thursday the 75th anniversary of D-Day at the Air Zoo looking at World War II planes to honor his father, John Kaiser, who flew in World War II.

“It always will be the greatest generation, to me anyway, you know," he said.

Kaiser said his father was B-17G pilot and flew over 30 missions from Italy.

“Flak’s coming up at you, the fighters are coming after you, and you can do as the pilot of a bomber is sit there and fly straight," Kaiser said. 'I don’t know how he did it - it just amazes me.”

Given what American soldiers endured during the invasion, Kaiser said he believes their level of pride in country must have driven them through the fight.

“They couldn’t have done what they did if they didn’t love this county and our way of life," Kaiser said.

Sam Cox is a retired Navy Rear Admiral and director of the Navy History and Heritage Command.

“You can die on the beach or you can die trying to get off the beach, and so they did what they had to do at incredibly high cost," Cox said.

He spent Thursday at the Air Zoo meeting with children and families to talk about D-Day and it's significance.

“If the Allies had failed, Germans might have had time to perfect their secret weapons they were working on – the ballistic missile and possibly even the atomic bomb - and the world would be very, very different had we not defeated them," he said.

Cox's grandfather served in WWII in the Pacific fighting against Japanese forces.

He sees his own mission now as doing whatever possible to honor all the living WWII veterans as often as he can, while preserving their history the best way imaginable.

“We have less than 10 years before they’re all gone, probably possible even less than five years, I mean it’s just the nature of things," Cox said. “They won’t be able to share their memories with us anymore if they haven’t written it down or they haven’t done an oral history, and so it’s important that we try to capture as much as we can so that we can preserve it for the future.”

Quinton Slovacek works at the Air Zoo as a collections and exhibit assistant and he shares Cox's view on the importance on collecting and preserving the stories from as many veterans as possible.

"The hope is that this isn’t forgotten, that what they did 75 years ago isn’t going to be forgotten in five years," he said.