Subscribe
Paratroopers float down from the sky near Sainte-Mere-Eglise, France, Sunday June 3, 2018. Marking the 1944 battle at La Fiere, 575 troops jumped from eight aircraft including U.S. Air Force C-130s.

Paratroopers float down from the sky near Sainte-Mere-Eglise, France, Sunday June 3, 2018. Marking the 1944 battle at La Fiere, 575 troops jumped from eight aircraft including U.S. Air Force C-130s. (MICHAEL ABRAMS/STARS AND STRIPES)

Paratroopers float down from the sky near Sainte-Mere-Eglise, France, Sunday June 3, 2018. Marking the 1944 battle at La Fiere, 575 troops jumped from eight aircraft including U.S. Air Force C-130s.

Paratroopers float down from the sky near Sainte-Mere-Eglise, France, Sunday June 3, 2018. Marking the 1944 battle at La Fiere, 575 troops jumped from eight aircraft including U.S. Air Force C-130s. (MICHAEL ABRAMS/STARS AND STRIPES)

James Bartholomees, left, and his siblings Luke, Alex and Kate, wave American flags as they watch their dad Col. James Bartholomees, commander of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, jump from from a plane near Sainte-Mere-Eglise, France.

James Bartholomees, left, and his siblings Luke, Alex and Kate, wave American flags as they watch their dad Col. James Bartholomees, commander of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, jump from from a plane near Sainte-Mere-Eglise, France. (MICHAEL ABRAMS/STARS AND STRIPES)

A young French boy jumps for joy after getting an airborne patch from an American soldiers following a parachute jump near Sainte-Mere-Eglise, France, Sunday June 3, 2018. Marking the 1944 battle at La Fiere, 575 troops jumped from eight aircraft including U.S. Air Force C-130s.





MICHAEL ABRAMS/STARS AND STRIPES

A young French boy jumps for joy after getting an airborne patch from an American soldiers following a parachute jump near Sainte-Mere-Eglise, France, Sunday June 3, 2018. Marking the 1944 battle at La Fiere, 575 troops jumped from eight aircraft including U.S. Air Force C-130s. MICHAEL ABRAMS/STARS AND STRIPES (MICHAEL ABRAMS/STARS AND STRIPES)

Paratroopers float down from the sky near Sainte-Mere-Eglise, France, Sunday June 3, 2018. Marking the 1944 battle at La Fiere, 575 troops jumped from eight aircraft including U.S. Air Force C-130s.

Paratroopers float down from the sky near Sainte-Mere-Eglise, France, Sunday June 3, 2018. Marking the 1944 battle at La Fiere, 575 troops jumped from eight aircraft including U.S. Air Force C-130s. (MICHAEL ABRAMS/STARS AND STRIPES)

An A-10 Thunderbolt II, painted in World War II style flies over La Fiere, near Sainte-Mere-Eglise, France, during a parachute jump marking the World War II battle fought here.

An A-10 Thunderbolt II, painted in World War II style flies over La Fiere, near Sainte-Mere-Eglise, France, during a parachute jump marking the World War II battle fought here. (MICHAEL ABRAMS/STARS AND STRIPES)

Spc. Mitchell Hurley of the 82nd Airborne hands out souvenirs to children after jumping at La Fiere near Sainte-Mere-Eglise, France, Sunday June 3, 2018. Marking the 1944 battle at La Fiere, 575 troops jumped from eight aircraft including U.S. Air Force C-130s

Spc. Mitchell Hurley of the 82nd Airborne hands out souvenirs to children after jumping at La Fiere near Sainte-Mere-Eglise, France, Sunday June 3, 2018. Marking the 1944 battle at La Fiere, 575 troops jumped from eight aircraft including U.S. Air Force C-130s (MICHAEL ABRAMS/STARS AND STRIPES)

Paratroopers move from the landing zone as others fall from the sky during an airborne jump near Sainte-Mere-Eglise, France, Sunday June 3, 2018. Marking the 1944 battle at La Fiere, 575 troops jumped from eight aircraft including U.S. Air Force C-130s.

Paratroopers move from the landing zone as others fall from the sky during an airborne jump near Sainte-Mere-Eglise, France, Sunday June 3, 2018. Marking the 1944 battle at La Fiere, 575 troops jumped from eight aircraft including U.S. Air Force C-130s. (MICHAEL ABRAMS/STARS AND STRIPES)

World War II veterans John Foy, Wesley Athey and William Kellerman watch paratroops come in for landings near Sainte-Mere-Eglise, France, Sunday June 3, 2018. Marking the 1944 battle at La Fiere, 575 troops jumped from eight aircraft including U.S. Air Force C-130s

World War II veterans John Foy, Wesley Athey and William Kellerman watch paratroops come in for landings near Sainte-Mere-Eglise, France, Sunday June 3, 2018. Marking the 1944 battle at La Fiere, 575 troops jumped from eight aircraft including U.S. Air Force C-130s (MICHAEL ABRAMS/STARS AND STRIPES)

SAINTE-MERE-EGLISE, France — Tracing the same route over the English Channel and over the fields and dense hedgerows of coastal Normandy, hundreds of NATO paratroopers paid tribute to jumps by the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions on the “Day of Days,” June 6th, 1944.

Starting from an airfield near Cherbourg, France, 575 soldiers from the U.S., France, Germany, the Netherlands and Romania jumped out over the course of about half an hour in chalks of twelve from eight C-130s and C-160s on a nearly-cloudless day near the town of Sainte-Mere-Eglise, just where U.S. paratroopers landed 74 years ago.

“It was pure emotion – we were about 300 feet off of the water, we could look out and see fishing trawlers,” Brig. Gen. Robert Cooley, commander of the 353rd Civil Affairs Command, an airborne unit that supports operations in Europe and Africa. “Everyone has their own story, everyone was in their own thoughts, really trying to understand what it meant to them.”

Susan Eisenhower, granddaughter of Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, planner of the D-Day invasion, was present to see his plan replicated in the gentle pastureland of Normandy.

“It’s a really iconic spot for all sorts of reasons,” she said. “Because of the heroism of the people who landed here, but also for the beginning of an important alliance between the U.S., Great Britain and France and other countries who participated here today, so it had real geopolitical significance and human and historical importance.”

Thousands of spectators were gathered to watch the jump, which was also punctuated with a low flyover by a pair of A-10 Warthogs from the Michigan Air National Guard’s 127th Wing.

It was Spc. Jesslayn Fuentes’ first jump in Normandy. The paratrooper from the 173rd Airborne Brigade, based in Vicenza, Italy, said it was a bit of a change from the unit’s normal jumps.

“Usually the way we jump is (mass tactical) into combat so this is my first “Hollywood” jump since airborne school,” she said. “I was in the fourth pass, sixth jumper, but once I knew it was coming up, it was a wrap, there was no hesitating.”

2018’s jump marked the first time Romanian soldiers participated. In World War II, Romania fought alongside Germany until it was overrun by Soviet forces in 1944. But the country is now a NATO member on the alliance’s eastern flank.

“I think the thing that’s most significant about it is we’re getting more players on the team,” said U.S. Army Europe Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Abernethy. “You look around here and see all the different uniforms of all our allied partners coming together, it’s tremendous.”

Abernethy said he was thinking of a mentor, Command Sgt. Maj. (ret.) Kenneth “Rock” Merritt, who fought with the 82nd Airborne in Normandy, as he prepared to leave the plane.

Following the massive airborne operation, paratroopers and guests attended a ceremony at Normandy’s famous “Iron Mike” statue, commemorating the battle for the La Fiere bridgehead from June 6-9, 1944.

“Anywhere, anytime, all the way - that’s the airborne creed,” said Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of U.S. European Command and Supreme Allied Commander, Europe.

“On La Fière causeway, these paratroopers did not fail. Today, let us not fail them. Let us honor their valor, their sacrifices.”

Sunday’s jump, Iron Mike ceremony and parade through the streets of Sainte-Mere-Eglise marked the high point for the 74th anniversary commemorations. Next year’s event, marking the 75th anniversary, should be even larger.

stoutamire.dan@stripes.com Twitter: @DKS_Stripes

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up