TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – They are different people with different experiences and different stories.
But each shares a common thread.
“These are men and women who history looks graciously upon as some of our bravest, our most selfless, our most resilient Americans to ever live,” said Chief Master Sergeant of the U.S. Air Force Kaleth O. Wright.
World War II brought them together. And the 75th anniversary of D-Day brought them back to that somber and important day when allied forces invaded northern France by beach landings on Normandy. It began the liberation of German-occupied France.
Bob Rans, 98, served in the U.S. Army Air Corps.
“The whole experience turned out to be a wonderful experience,” he said.
Rans was aboard a B-24 Liberator airplane that was shot down during the war before he could finish his mission.
He said he was taken prisoner by the Nazis and held by the Romanians.
When asked what he remembers most about D-Day, Rans shifted the focus from himself to others in the room.
“Whatever I did, no matter how stupidly little it is, I look at you and say ‘wow, that’s worth it,'” he said Thursday. “Whatever I did, no matter how little, no matter how stupidly little, it still was worth it to see you wonderful people.”
Gerald Berry of Largo was just 22 when he co-piloted a plane that brought paratroopers to France. He remembers a specific thing about D-Day.
“It was a busy day!” he said.
At the time, he had no idea that he would relive that day three quarters-of-a-centruy later in front of servicemen and women at MacDill Air Force Base.
“We had never been in that. We didn’t have any idea what was going to happen. We had 30 caliber machine guns. That was all,” he said.
He made it home to retell his experiences and join in on the pomp and circumstance so many years later.
“We did what we were supposed to do. It’s a duty to this country when you’re in the service. You do what they tell you to do. And we did,” Berry said.