75 Years Later: D-Day and Russell Pickett

“These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.” President Ronald Reagan, on the 40th Anniversary of D-Day. 

One the most ambitious and consequential military campaigns in human history, the Allied Victory on D-Day changed the course of WWII and liberated Europe from Nazi control. Code name ‘Operation Neptune,’ the Normandy landing on D-Day is regarded as one of the most ambitious military campaigns in history and displays of heroism and resolve. The bravery and sacrifice of so many helped free a continent from a totalitarian regime. 

June 6th 2019 marked the 75th Anniversary of this monumental day. To celebrate the event, Oakley Standard Issue (OSI) partnered with The Best Defense Foundation. The mission: to bring 16 WWII veterans back to Normandy to pay their final respects. Commemorating this momentous occasion, OSI released a Limited Edition 75th Anniversary D-Day Fuel Cell gifted to each veteran. It was a trip of a lifetime.

A survivor of Utah Beach, one of the five D-Day beaches, Jerry Dietch had always refused to go back to Normandy. “I said, ‘No, I don’t think I can handle it. I’ll get too emotional,’” says Dietch. Now 93-years-old, Dietch decided he would make the trip. He wanted to see where his good friends had died, and pay his respects. There is also a spot by a seawall where he was hit with shrapnel, leaving a fist-sized dent in his helmet. Serving in a combat demolition unit, Dietch cleared obstacles and blew-up strong points that slowed the Allied advance inland. 18-years-old when he landed, Dietch remembers, “after the first day I felt like I was 30. I went in a little boy and came out a man. You grow up fast.”

Russell Picket

For some veterans this is their first trip back to Normandy 75 years later, and others it is their 2nd or 3rd. Russell Pickett, 94, was 19 years old when he landed on Omaha Beach as a Private in the 29th Infantry Division. A long-time sufferer from post-traumatic-stress-disorder (PTSD), Pickett describes, “For a long time, I really didn’t want to come back, and I kind of dreaded it. I can’t say that I really enjoy the whole thing, you know? When I head back on the beach and all that kind of stuff, sometimes it does things to you.”

You live the war almost every night, you see? And you don’t get rid of it, no matter what you do.

With a flamethrower strapped to his back, Pickett was wounded when an explosion tore at the landing craft transporting him onto a beach. “I’ve got it now where I can handle it pretty well, because you live the war almost every night, you see? And you don’t get rid of it, no matter what you do,” says Pickett. “I would love to forget it, totally forget it, but no way, especially when you go through a battle like D-Day.”

Dietsch, Pickett, and fourteen others experienced an all-inclusive trip to Normandy. Their visit included meeting President Trump, President Macron, watching a re-enactment of the climbing at Point Du Hoc. Another highlight of the trip is the annual parade through Sainte-Mère-Église, the first village to be liberated by American paratroopers. You can watch the entire visit below:

The Oakley SI Limited Edition Fuel Cell

To help mark the 75th anniversary, Oakley SI took inspiration from a variety of components to create the Limited Edition 75th Anniversary D-Day Fuel Cell. The Trident, the weapon of Neptune, is embossed on the stem along with details of the five beach landings. Additionally, a custom 75th Anniversary lens etch and custom microfiber bag. Oakley SI presented a pair of glasses to each veteran during their homecoming trip. The eyewear is included in their ‘Memento Kits.’ The gift boxes include eyewear, a commemorative challenge coin, and a small glass vial of sand from the Beach where they landed. 

A portion of proceeds from the sales of this iconic collection support the Best Defense Foundation. On Sunday, August 2, 2020, we said goodbye to Russell Pickett. He was 95.

Team Oakley SI

Team Oakley SI is a dedicated division within Oakley, Inc. that is committed to serving the specific needs of the U.S. Military, Veterans, Government, Law Enforcement, Firefighters, and EMS professionals.

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