Michigan Air National Guard A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft fly over the beaches of Normandy, France, as part of the commemoration ceremonies for D-Day 74, June 3.
The flight represents the first assigned mission for the 107th Attack Wing of New York Air National Guard in France since World War II.
The unit was formed at Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia, in August 1942 as the 339th Bombardment Group.
The 339th provided fighter cover over the English Channel and the coast of Normandy during the invasion of France in June 1944.
The pilot, shot down in combat during World War II, was 2nd Lt. Robert S. Olson, who was flying a reconnaissance mission over northern France when he was shot down on July 24, 1944, shortly after the June 6, 1944, D-Day invasion that the 107th played a key role in supporting.
The current squadron commander is spending days leading up to D-Day in Normandy. The 107th, a unit of the Michigan Air National Guard’s 127th Wing, will be flying two A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft over the D-Day commemoration ceremony. It will be the first time since World War II that 107th aircraft will be assigned a mission in France.
“Lt. Olson forever remains a member of our squadron. It was an honor to walk to his grave and spend a silent moment with him,” the squadron commander said. Names of current A-10 pilots in the 107th are being withheld for operational security reasons.
Olson was one of 13 pilots from the 107th, one of the oldest flying units in the National Guard, who was killed in combat action during World War II. Three other 107th pilots were shot down and held as prisoners of war until being repatriated after the war.
Olson, who was a native of Minnesota who joined the Michigan unit after the war began, is buried at the American cemetery in St. James, France, not far from the beaches of Normandy, where the D-Day invasion took place. Olson and his fellow Red Devils – as the squadron was known then and know – were flying F-6 Mustangs in the days leading up to D-Day. The provided about 9,600 aerial surveillance photos to the Allied High Command, which were then used to plan the D-Day attack.
In addition to honoring Olson at his gravesite, the commander and other representatives of the 127th Wing, including the Wing commander, Brig. Gen. John D. Slocum, visited a memorial marker near the French town of Deux Jumeaux. It was in a grass field near the town where American Airmen created Advanced Landing Ground 4, a temporary air field also known as Airfield 4 or A-4, to which the 107th relocated in mid-June. By June 28, the 107th was operational at ALG 4, becoming the first American reconnaissance unit to operate from the European mainland. Within a week, the 107th pushed further forward, following the U.S. 1st Army, and began operating from ALG 8, near the town of LeMolay.
“The 107th essentially served as the eyes of the 1st Army,” Slocum explained. “These Airmen played a key role in D-Day and beyond. Their heroism and dedication to service, as exemplified by Lt. Olson, are standards we continue to strive to achieve.”
While viewing the memorial marker and the nearby grass field – all trace of the temporary airfield is gone other than the marker – the squadron commander had a chance encounter with a former mayor of Deux Jumeaux at the marker. Despite a language barrier, the two exchanged handshakes and hugs, posing together for a photo.
“He was so gracious, he was literally shaking with emotion,” the commander said. “Based on his age, he was probably a young boy here during World War II. To stand on this ground where the 107th once flew and to meet this man was a humbling honor.”
The 107th has been assigned to France twice in its long history – for each of the two World Wars. The squadron marked its 100th anniversary in 2017. For about the past 10 years, it has been flying the A-10, a close air support attack aircraft. The squadron has deployed repeatedly over the past dozen or more years, in support of various combat operations in the Middle East.
During World Wars I and II, the 107th operated with the motto Videre Est Scire (“To See is to Know). In 1954, the unit motto changed to Mors Hostibus (“Death to the Enemy”) when the squadron transitioned from a tactical reconnaissance mission to a fighter mission.