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D-Day remembered: 'We didn't know what we were getting into'
Gainesville man recalls role in historic D-Day invasion
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World War II veteran James DeLong, 88, served as a pilot for the U.S. Air Force from 1942-1945. DeLong said he returned to the France in 1994 on the 50th anniversary of D-Day to honor those who lost their lives. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

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Listen as Gainesville native James DeLong talks about his D-Day experience.

No flight over enemy targets was regarded as routine.

Even still, the morning of June 6, 1944 — 65 years ago today — was far from ordinary.

Hours before the World War II Allied invasion of Normandy, or D-Day, 1st Lt. James “Jim” DeLong of the U.S. Army Air Force climbed aboard his B-26 Marauder, a twin-engine medium bomber, and headed for the beaches of northern France.

“We were just ahead of the landings,” said the Gainesville native and resident in an interview Thursday morning. “The ships were all in place. We could see them as we went over at various altitudes.”

He also could recall flying conditions.

“We just had daylight and could see the ground. ... We had to go through so much bad weather to reach our target,” said DeLong, 88.

“But it was clearing down there. From the base, we took off in almost zero visibility and climbed to 9,000 feet. ... By the time we got there, to where we could see each other, there were planes everywhere and trying to get back into formations.”

History records that weather played a major factor in the landings.

Conditions were unsuitable for a June 4 landing, as wind and high seas would have made launching landing craft treacherous at best. The Germans also believed no invasion would be possible; many senior officers were away for the weekend.

The amphibious landings were bloody, with many Allied troops dying before ever stepping on sand — scenes that have been repeated in movies, perhaps most graphically in 1998’s “Saving Private Ryan.”

The bombing mission was tense, “particularly when we knew that there was something up,” DeLong said. “But we didn’t know it was going to come off that day. It was a surprise by at least a number of days.”

DeLong returned to France in 1994 for a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of D-Day.

“Many of us who had participated in ... operations from the air, ground or sea were pinned individually with the Médaille du Jubilé, a freedom medal,” DeLong said in a 2002 interview.

In June that year, he was among 77 Northeast Georgia World War II veterans hailed for their role in helping to liberate France.
The French government paid tribute in a ceremony held at the U.S. Navy Supply Corps School in Athens.

Frédérique Arnaud-Gallin, vice consular at the French consulate in Atlanta, praised the men for their heroics and presented each one with a certificate.

These days, DeLong lives off Dixon Drive and says that, aside from some health problems, is getting along fine.
D-Day doesn’t pass, however, without some reflection.

“I always think of before we made the strike. We didn’t know what we were going into. We didn’t know what marbles they would have ready waiting on us,” DeLong said.

The event served as the major turning point in World War II. It would mark the beginning of the end of Nazi domination in Europe.

“Back then, everybody wanted to get a part in (the war). The thought of being ruled by somebody else, another country, just wasn’t fitting.”

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