CAIRO — Thursday marks the 75th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy: the largest seaborne invasion in human history, a major turning point for the Allies in World War II and the chance for one former Cairo resident to play his own role in bringing down Adolf Hitler
Bill Bishop had joined the National Guard in 1939 when he was just 17 and was on leave a year later when the news came that the Empire of Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor and that war had begun.
Making just $19 each month, Bishop learned he could make an additional $50 by volunteering for a paratrooper platoon, which was at that time testing a new method of airborne warfare.
As a charter member of Company G, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division, Bishop had already participated in combat operations in Sicily prior to his jump into France.
Over the previous four and a half years, German armies had conquered a swath of territory stretching from France to Poland. The occupied area was considered so impenetrable that it was referred to as "Fortress Europe."
That all began to change on D-Day: June 6, 1944, when Allied forces crossed the English Channel and invaded northern France.
To prevent an invasion from the sea, the Germans reinforced the French coast with a 2,400-mile defensive wall of obstacles, including 6.5 million mines, thousands of concrete bunkers housing artillery and tens of thousands of tank ditches.
Facing a daunting challenge already, airborne troops like Bishop were inserted late the night before the invasion to do everything possible to prevent the 55 German divisions stationed throughout France from mobilizing into a counterattack.
By sabotaging bridges and railroad lines, the paratroopers could at least ensure that if the invaders secured a beachhead, the Allied army of 175,000 troops could not be dislodged from the continent.
On the night of June 5, Bishop strapped on a parachute and jumped into a hail of gunfire.
But after landing in the small town of Sainte Mere Eglise, Bishop was in no position to fight a war.
During his jump, most of the panels of Bishop's parachute were blown off by gunfire and as a result he had landed too fast, breaking his left leg in the process.
"He said that the earth was coming up at him instead of him going down to the earth," his wife Evelyn said.
Bishop's leg was broken so badly that he was initially afraid it would have to be amputated.
Meanwhile, the paratroopers were engaged in an intense firefight with German forces over control of the town.
At about 5 o'clock the morning of June 6, Sainte Mere Eglise was the first city in France to be liberated by the Allies.
With a beachhead secured later that day, Bishop underwent surgery and had a full plate placed on his leg.
While recovering from his leg injury in Tallahassee, Bishop met Evelyn Lett, who at the time served as his unofficial chauffeur, but who would later become his wife of 66 years.
After Germany surrendered in May 1945, Bishop returned home where he married Evelyn and, with the assistance of the post-war G.I. Bill, attended watchmaker school in Tampa.
The Bishops then moved to Cairo, where they operated a jewelry store for the next 51 years.
Bishop returned to Sainte Mere Eglise with his family for the 25th and 50th anniversaries of the Normandy invasion, and over the years he attempted to keep the stories of others who served in the war relevant.
To do this, Bishop interviewed numerous other veterans to record their experiences, including some who said they had never shared their stories with anyone else.
"All of that is history," Evelyn said. "I'd love to have it put in a book sometime."
Bishop was among the organizers of the Cairo branches of Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans and helped initiate the construction of the downtown Vietnam Veterans Park.
With the help of his wife, Bishop also operated a bus that continues to transport more than 500 veterans across the region to the Veterans Affairs center in Tallahassee each week.
Recently, Evelyn received a special commendation from President Donald Trump for her more than 4,000 hours of volunteer work with the VA in Tallahassee.
Though Bishop died in 2011, his wife Evelyn remains in Cairo 71 years after moving there, fighting to keep her husband's legacy relevant and the historic battle he fought.
"You know how much history they've got in a history book and all they've got is one little page about (D-Day)," she lamented.