The wonderful story you are about to read comes from one of our Normandy Ambassadors, Virginie Feutry Durr, who lives in the USA and without whom, this D-Day 2022 would not have had such a lovely touch. Thanks to her background and her commitment, she was able to take on this journey a US airline, a former NFL player, a Michelin executive and many of her colleagues, all supporting the wild idea to fly WWII veterans on a dedicated chartered plane for the 78th anniversary of the D-Day landings. A historic flight: this is the first time a US Airline has landed directly in Normandy, in Deauville from Atlanta (USA) on June 2nd.
An American Dream
It all begins, as is so often the case, with a family history… and a Norman one at that. And specifically, that of Virginie Durr’s grandmother. “My grandparents lived in Normandy, in Caen. My grandmother, Dr. Virginia Feutry was a native of Romania and graduated as a medical doctor in Paris in 1936. She shared her experiences of the war with me, and left an indelible impression of her admiration for the Americans, the liberators.” Her grandfather, Rolland, is the Deacon of the Faculty of Pharmacy of Caen. Her father, Jean-Pierre Feutry is a retired physician in Hérouville-Saint-Clair and her mother, Anne-Marie Feutry-Titon was head of the maternity institute at Caen’s University Hospital… Inspired by this family history as well as her own career plans, Virginie started her studies into paramedical studies.
When I was 11, I wrote an essay on what my life in the USA could be like.
Her aim was to become a speech therapist. But the call of the New World would not leave her. “I was focused on the United States, the language… I grew up watching The Little House on the Prairie and Dallas!” Virginie remembers with a smile. During the last year of her speech therapy studies, during an internship in Toulon, the first signs of her destiny appeared, in the form of an aircraft carrier. “I met someone from the military… who became my husband for 12 years.” After completing her studies, Virginie dropped everything, family and career, to follow him. They would have two beautiful children, who are now 24 and 26 years old.
The airline industry bug
So, it was with her hands in her pockets, but her head in the stars, that Virginie took her first steps in the country she had dreamt about for so long. A land of opportunity, but a dream to which you must be fully committed. “It was difficult, I started off delivering newspapers at 4 in the morning, then I gave French and piano lessons. But I was always blown away by the positivity over there: there is a unifying energy in the people.” One day, she was offered the opportunity to join Delta Air Lines. Fascinated by the culture of this airline company, she climbed the ladder.
Through the Chairman’s Club, this recognition offers a privileged contact with our executives.
Efficient and committed to her work, she was offered a business manager role with Delta Air Lines – a position with high responsibilities, managing the largest global accounts. “From one day to the next, and fearful of not being up to the job, I found myself in this job”, Virginie remembers. But she didn’t need to be worried, because 3 years later, the company selected her as one of the 100 best employees (Delta Air Lines has 80 000 staff), a recognition that allowed her to join the ‘Chairman’s Club’, with a number of benefits, particularly being able to meet the executives. Ever so slowly, the pieces started to fall into place… A passion for the United States, the liberation of Normandy, airline company… all that was needed was something to kick-start the process. During the height of the pandemic, Virginie found it in a documentary: ‘The Girl Who Wore Freedom’.
The Girl Who Wore Freedom
It was a shock. This documentary, by the American Christian Taylor, retraces how the Normans endured the liberation of June 1944 through the experiences of little Danièle Patrix, 5 years old when the D-Day landings happened. Her dress was made from American parachutes. “The Girl who Wore Freedom”, filmed in the Manche department, touched Virginie’s Norman roots. “I was touched by the originality. That an American explains what Normandy means for the Americans, each year, during D-Day. This film underlines that we have never forgotten what happened between our two countries. It deserves to be seen more widely”, Virginie explains. Bolstered by the credibility she’d gained within the company, Virginie managed to convince Delta, and subsequently its partner, Air France, to show the film on board its planes.
SEVERAL MILLION OF PASSENGERS PER DAY CAN DISCOVER THE STORY OF THE D-DAY LANDINGS IN NORMANDY.
This tribute to the allied forces, and notably the GIs – the film highlights the importance of the commemorations – chimes deeply within large companies, such as Delta Air Lines, which, like the American subsidiary of Michelin, have created a partnership with veterans. “I found out that one of my clients, Michelin, took part in the documentary. Discussing this with David Chapman, VP Michelin, retired colonel and former attaché at the American Embassy in Paris in charge of the commemorations, under our respective veterans group, we told each other that going to Normandy together one day would be incredible.” And even better with World War Two veterans…
A direct flight Atlanta-Deauville
The seed had been planted. But how to put it into operation? How to contact the veterans? Virginie contacted Valérie Gautier-Cardin president of the charity “Veterans back to Normandy”, who appears in the documentary. “She told me that she worked with Donnie Edwards, a former NFL player, founder of ‘The Best Defense Foundation’. I contacted him, and during Veterans Day, thanks to a team effort with our Veterans Group President Kurt Robinson, he met our CEO at Delta, Ed Bastian. On 12 December 2021, Ed gave his approval for the charter: “OK, let’s go”. It was extraordinary.” Straight away, there was an incredible spirit throughout the airline and our staff, including our veterans group. Because if Virginie is the orchestra leader of this wild project, many of her colleagues also gave everything to it – evenings, weekends to make it happen. Logistics, luggage, decorations, accommodation, escorts… everything is prepared down to the smallest detail to take 28 to 30 veterans in total security.
I’m very proud of Delta but also very proud of Normandy, the way it invested in this project, the way it’s answered the call.
“When you listen to the veterans, there is a wisdom, a richness, extraordinary stories that we can’t let die with them.” Beyond simply paying tribute to the past, the idea is to bring awareness to the younger generations. “Freedom is not free, we must never forget that.” On 1st June, working with the town and airport of Deauville, the Normandy Regional Council and the town of Caen, a Boeing 767 took off from Atlanta for a direct flight, landing on 2nd June in Deauville. A historic flight, bringing back these American GIs in the footsteps of a battle that no-one should forget.
- In 2018, Virginie Durr invited her American friends to Normandy. At Utah Beach, she met a veteran, George Shenkle, who she befriended. While he since passed away, Virginie found out in his obituary a link to the documentary ‘The Girl Who Wore Freedom’…
- 28 Delta veterans and 8 Michelin veterans – active or reservists – accompany the WWII veterans. Some are being welcomed by an 86-year-old Norman and his family, who survived the landings and is moved to welcome the Americans into his home.
- Danièle Patrix – The Girl Who Wore Freedom, today aged 83, was part of the flight with her daughter. Invited by Delta, Air France and Michelin to the United States, she was able to be at the screening of the documentary in New York last week, and then on the charter flight to Normandy with the veterans who liberated her 78 years ago
- By decree of January 11th, 2022, Virginie was appointed French Trade Advisor by the Prime Minister and given four missions: advice to public authority, help to businesses, international youth training and the promotion of French attractiveness.