Retired fighter pilot details D-Day mission in Normandy



SATELLITE BEACH, Fla. - Seventy years ago today, 4,400 men died in what would become the turning point in World War II.

On Friday, world leaders gathered to pay tribute to those who served in the D-Day invasion of Normandy.

On June 6, 1944, more than 150,000 troops took part in fierce fighting on the beaches at the northern shores of France, which marked the largest land and sea invasion in history.

"Normandy, this was America's beachhead, and our victory in that war decided not just a century but shaped the security and well-being of all posterity," said President Barack Obama.

The number of veterans who fought on D-Day is rapidly dwindling with most now in their 90s, including retired Maj. Arthur Charbonneau, of Satellite Beach, who talked with Channel 9 about the air patrols he flew over Normandy that historic day.

Charbonneau, 90, said he remembers the day as if it happened yesterday.

"It was the first time anyone saw anything like that," said Charbonneau. "You saw the debris, like looking at a disaster after a tornado, except a higher percentage who died or were maimed."

The P-47 fighter pilot got his mission at 4 a.m. that morning, to keep German fighter pilots off Normandy's five beaches, which spanned 50 miles.

"It turned out to be a needless job because the German fighters weren't there," said Charbonneau. "The mission was accomplished. It was a piece of cake."

But Charbonneau saw others who had it much tougher.

"You feel badly for the people who had to climb those cliffs. They had tremendous losses," he said.

Charbonneau said he later became a prisoner of war for 11 months.

Charbonneau wouldn’t allow Channel 9's Lori Brown to thank him for his service, simply saying, "There's nothing heroic about just doing your job."

And that's one reason why they're called the greatest generation, Brown said.