A Day to Remember, a Future to Create



The original caption for this iconic U.S. Coast Guard image from D-Day reads “INTO THE JAWS OF DEATH — Down the ramp of a Coast Guard landing barge Yankee soldiers storm toward the beach-sweeping fire of Nazi defenders in the D-Day invasion of the French Coast.”

Photo courtesy of The National WWII Museum

Eighty years after a signature moment in history, a Tennessee-based company is honoring the past while helping forge a visionary future in Normandy.

In October 2023 — 21 months after it announced plans for a $1 billion material-to-material molecular recycling facility in Port-Jérôme-sur-Seine, Normandy, France — Eastman Chemical Company and the Region of Normandy launched a project of entirely different historic proportions in its headquarters hometown of Kingsport, Tennessee.

A D-Day Competition for high school students invited students from several schools in the area to write a tribute letter to the soldiers, living or deceased, who landed on the foreign beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944 — 80 years ago today.

A group of 48 World War II veterans were honored at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport as they departed for Normandy earlier this week.

Photo by Rank Studios courtesy of Delta Airlines

“This particular D-Day Competition is unique to the Kingsport community and was created by Normandy education leaders in partnership with the International Institute of Human Rights and Peace, also based in Normandy,” explains Eastman spokesperson Amanda Allman. “It is part of a much larger global education initiative called the Freedom Prize, designed to raise awareness of freedom, peace and human rights.”

Winners of the Eastman D-Day Competition stand with Normandy Region Vice President Bertrand Deniaud.

Photo courtesy of Eastman

A total of 10 students were declared winners of the contest early this year based on the quality of their submissions and awarded with a trip to Normandy, France, this week to celebrate the 80th anniversary of D-Day. “They had the historic honor of meeting and talking with several veterans,” Allman says, “as well as hearing from Motaz Azaiza, this year's Freedom Prize recipient and a photojournalist, and Sonita Alizadeh, the 2021 Freedom Prize recipient recognized for her international advocacy against forced marriages.”

The winning students’ names and high schools:\

  • Natalie Carr, Sullivan East High School
  • Garrett Crowder, Dobyns-Bennett High School
  • Audrey Edwards, Dobyns-Bennett High School
  • Mark Sago, Dobyns-Bennett High School
  • Christian Schmidt, Dobyns-Bennett High School
  • Laila Venzon, Dobyns-Bennett High School
  • Daliah Hale, West Ridge High School
  • Courtney Good, West Ridge High School
  • Katelyn Shoemaker, West Ridge High School
  • Eden Vineyard, West Ridge High School

When World War II veterans arrived in Normandy, the gratitude arrived in waves.

Photo by Rank Studios courtesy of Delta Airlines

The students this week joined 16 students sponsored by Delta Airlines and the Best Defense Foundation on the flight to Normandy with 48 WWII veterans as part of the organization’s Battlefield Return to Normandy program, where the 16 students are accompanying and interviewing the veterans over 12 days during visits to “places like Omaha Beach, Utah Beach, St. Mere Eglise and Carentan where the students will assist in escorting the veterans back to their battlefields,” says a Delta blog. Their program began with a kickoff dinner at the Delta Flight Museum in Atlanta alongside other partners from Michelin and Boeing, French and U.S. dignitaries and Team USA Paralympians Brad Snyder and Dan Cnossen. Their visit to France coincides with the arrival of President Joe Biden and other dignitaries to honor the 80th anniversary alongside French President Emmanuel Macron.

Veterans were honored this week at the Pegasus Bridge Official Ceremony in Normandy.

Photo by Rank Studios courtesy of Delta Airlines

Macron’s wife Brigitte greeted the Atlanta-originated veterans flight when it arrived on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the veterans paid their respects at the Pegasus Bridge Official Ceremony. On June 5, 1944, Pegasus Bridge was successfully captured by a force of 181 men, led by Major John Howard, which played a pivotal role in limiting the effectiveness of a German counterattack in the aftermath of the Normandy invasion. Yesterday the visitors went to the Normandy American Cemetery, visited the Overlord Museum and were “greeted with a standing ovation and a roar of cheers at the Freedom Prize Ceremony hosted by Normandy Region leaders in Caen — which invites young people aged 15 to 25 from France and around the world to come together and honor those committed to fighting for freedom,” a Delta blog explains. “The veterans wrapped the busy and emotional day with a welcome gala dinner hosted by Normandy President Hervé Morin” before retiring for the evening ahead of further solemnities today.



Things Go In Cycles

That’s the same President Morin who last spring visited Kingsport where Eastman’s first methanolysis facility is being constructed. The similar plant in Normandy is expected to be operational in two years. (A month-long public hearing process will proceed in Normandy beginning next week.)

Normandy President Herve Morin (left) and Eastman Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer Brad Lich see eye to eye on the need for a circular economy.

“We are excited to welcome President Morin to our Kingsport site and this wonderful community we’ve called home for over 100 years,” said Eastman Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer Brad Lich. “The investments we’re making in Kingsport and Normandy will help drive a more circular economy where plastic waste can be infinitely recycled and used again and again to produce specialty materials. Solving great challenges requires collaboration, and I would like to thank President Morin for his continued support to enable this innovation in France with our second methanolysis facility which is expected to be complete in 2026.”

Eastman says it is “focused on showing the world it can move away from a linear economy where waste plastics end up in the landfill, the incinerator, or the environment, to a truly circular economy where this waste can be infinitely recycled and used again and again. Today, over 260 million metric tons of plastic are being thrown away and only 12% of that waste is currently being recycled.”

The Kingsport facility converts plastic waste into brand new materials with recycled content and will use more than 100,000 metric tons of plastic waste every year that can’t be recycled by traditional methods.

“Eastman's decision to locate the world's largest plastics recycling plant in our region shows that Normandy is now positioned on the world map as a region where business is developing in an ecosystem that is favorable to low-carbon and innovative industries,” said President Morin last year. “This project is one of the largest foreign investments in France in the last 30 years, and we are delighted to welcome Eastman to Normandy.”

Eastman’s headquarters and hometown manufacturing complex are located in Kingsport, Tennessee

Photo courtesy of Eastman

“We see great opportunity for our solutions in Europe, considering its leading role in pioneering a global circular economy for plastics,” Eastman explains on a thorough Frequently Asked Questions page about its massive French project. “There are multiple reasons why France is our starting point. We share the same vision and first-mover ambition to tackle the hard-to-recycle polyester plastic waste that cannot be mechanically recycled and have both demonstrated responsibility by setting similar ambitious, voluntary carbon and circular economy goals. For example, France is trying to improve its recycling capabilities and realizes that mechanical recycling alone will not be sufficient because it does not allow the processing of all types of plastics. The country is, therefore, encouraging innovative technologies — such as molecular recycling — to complement existing techniques and move towards a more circular economy.”

Eastman was founded in 1920, employs around 14,500 people and reported 2022 revenues of approximately $10.6 billion. Its investment joins around 15 other major corporate investments that have qualified for Site Selection’s Conway Projects Database over the past four years, including a $106.2 million, 150-job commitment from Sanofi in Le Trait announced in May, a $320 million, 550-job investment from Renault in Sandouville in April; and a $3.7 million project from Ileos Beauty USA in Val-de-Reuil.

Beauty and cosmetic companies are among the backers of the Eastman plan for Normandy. In endorsing the project, Claude Martinez, executive president and managing director of the Beauty Division of LVMH Group, stated, “At LVMH, with our Life 360 program, we made the decision that our packaging will contain zero plastic from virgin fossil resources in the near future. Eastman's recycling technologies are playing a crucial role in helping LVMH achieve our sustainability targets without any compromise on quality. LVMH Beauty is happy to continue to collaborate with Eastman, supporting the implementation of innovative technologies in France, where many of our iconic Perfumes and Cosmetics Houses come from.”

In addition to LVMH, The Estée Lauder Companies, Clarins, Procter & Gamble, L’Oréal and Danone signed letters of intent for multiyear supply agreements from the Normandy facility, which is expected to create jobs for approximately 350 people and lead to an additional 1,500 indirect jobs in recycling, energy and infrastructure. It aims to recycle up to 200,000 tons of hard-to-recycle plastic waste annually — double the volume in Kingsport. A second U.S. facility, potentially supported by funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act through the Department of Energy, is to be constructed in Longview, Texas and handle 110,000 metric tons per year.

This week and on this day, however, the weight of the world’s environmental challenges took a back seat to the weight of the sacrifice made by so many 80 years ago on those battlefields and beaches. “Participating in the Liberty Prize 80th D-Day Remembrance contest offers students a chance to connect with soldiers who landed on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944,” said Dobyns-Bennett High School principal Brian Tate when the Kingsport essay contest was announced last fall. “This opportunity not only honors the sacrifice of those soldiers but also provides a platform for students to learn about heroes through history … What an extraordinary adventure to walk in the very places these historical events took place. Allowing students to trace the footsteps of the soldiers deepens their understanding of the significance of D-Day.”

“For my generation of baby boomers, the souvenir of D-Day and the role of American GIs in the liberation of France was very vivid and present in our lives. Now that the last veterans are only a handful, it is all the more important to transmit this memory to the younger generations.” — Philippe Yvergniaux, Business France

The significance of passing on that understanding can be felt from talking to any French citizen of a certain age, such as Philippe Yvergniaux, investment director for Business France North America, who has more than 40 years of experience in international development. He happened to visit me at Site Selection’s offices earlier this week alongside Jeremie Sautter, foreign investment manager for the industrial sector for Business France.

“In the framework of the D-Day commemorations of June 6, 2024, we are proud and honored to welcome in Normandy the veterans who landed on the French shores in 1944, but also groups of American and French kids who are invited to contribute to this day of remembrance,” Yvergniaux says. “Indeed, for my generation of baby boomers, the souvenir of D-Day and the role of American GIs in the liberation of France was very vivid and present in our lives. Now that the last veterans are only a handful, it is all the more important to transmit this memory to the younger generations, so they never forget what we owe to our American brothers and sisters.” — Adam Bruns

World War II veterans visited Normandy American Cemetery earlier this week.

Photo by Rank Studios courtesy of Delta Airlines