Indy vet chosen for D-Day 80th anniversary celebration

Their bravery changed the world.

Eighty years ago, the 66 soldiers helped the United States and its allies pull off a stunning invasion at Normandy. D-Day — June 6, 1944 — has since been etched in history.

Now, on the 80th anniversary of the victory, the group had returned — including one of central Indiana’s own.

Bob Pedigo, an Indianapolis native and current southside resident, was one of 66 D-Day veterans back in France for a special slate of recognitions, ceremonies and honors this week. Organized through American Airlines, Pedigo and the other veterans left for their journey on May 31, departing from Texas aboard a chartered flight bound for Paris.

“We’re honored to play a part in helping this group of heroic veterans return to Normandy,” said David Seymour, American’s chief operating officer and a veteran of the U.S. Army. “This special journey is not only an expression of our gratitude for these heroes and the sacrifices they made for our freedom, but we hope to help shine a light on their extraordinary stories and preserve their legacies for generations to come.”

Pedigo grew up in Indianapolis during the Great Depression, helping support his family from the age of 7 with a magazine sales route in addition to selling scrap metal.

When World War II broke out, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps. Pedigo was assigned to manufacture the then-classified Norden bombsights, which allowed bombers to more safely evade German anti-aircraft weapons while still accurately hitting their targets. He was the youngest of 500 assigned to the task.

Pedigo would go on to become chief armorer, overseeing production and transportation of .50 caliber machine guns, gun turrets and other weaponry.

On D-Day, Pedigo was part of the 453rd Bombardment Group. His group was one of the first to be called into the air on a B-24J Liberator over Omaha Beach to drop bombs on the German encampment in St. Laurent, France. His successful mission helped the Allied forces successfully storm the beaches of Normandy.

For his service, Pedigo earned numerous awards, including the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with three oak clusters and more.

After being discharged, Pedigo returned to Indiana and his wife, Helen, who he had married at age 17 in Greenwood. They raised two sons while Pedigo worked for Naval Avionics Center until retiring as part of a design review team.

Pedigo’s status as a surviving D-Day veteran led American Airlines and their organizers to reach out about taking part in the Normandy trip for the 80th anniversary of the invasion.

Pedigo and his fellow travelers met in Texas for a kickoff dinner at the American Airlines headquarters in Fort Worth on May 30 that included a 1940s-era big band and the Victory Belles from the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. The next morning, they enjoyed a send-off parade at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport.

The veterans spent two days in Paris before traveling to the Normandy region for commemorative events. The trip will include visits to key historical sites, concerts and special ceremonies to honor the courage and sacrifice of all who served during World War II. The culmination is a June 6 ceremony at the Normandy American Cemetery, where more than 9,000 U.S. service members have been laid to rest.

To make the trip a reality for the nearly 70 participating veterans, American partnered with organizations such as TriWest Healthcare Alliance, Gary Sinise Foundation, Robert Irvine Foundation and Old Glory Honor Flight.

Pedigo and his fellow veterans will return to the United States following the D-Day ceremonies this week.