Re-creation of Normandy drop leaves spectators wowed
Stars and Stripes June 9, 2003
SAINTE-MÈRE-EGLISE, France — Sunday’s drop over Normandy was under a blue sky, not in the middle of the night.
The 10,000 people waiting below were not German soldiers but admiring spectators. Still, there’s something about parachuting onto the battlefields of D-Day that gets a soldier’s blood running.
“There was a lot of excitement on the aircraft,” said Staff Sgt. Dan Ripper of Oil City, Pa., and member of the 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group stationed in Stuttgart, Germany.
“It’s the envy of every airborne soldier to come here. The tension was so high and everybody was so excited to be part of it. Just imagining the mass of the whole operation puts you in awe.”
Ripper and 47 others got the honor this year to pay tribute to their predecessors by jumping into the small village where the first battles of D-Day were fought.
Fifty-nine years ago, the paratroopers started dropping just after midnight on June 6. Some landed in the field used for Sunday’s event.
Others landed in nearby fields — or in trees, on buildings and into flooded fields.
Their mission was to capture the bridge at La Fiere to prevent German reinforcements from going north to Omaha Beach and fighting the Allies.
The parachutists of 1944 were successful — the bridge was captured and held until artillery and armored divisions were able to come in from Omaha Beach to back them up.
It was dry on Sunday when the parachutists landed. Fifty-nine years ago, many of the jumpers died in the flooded fields, unable to release themselves from their equipment.
But Sunday’s jump was no picnic.
Winds were blowing from the southeast at 10-15 knots, with stronger gusts.
The four C-130s flew in from Cherbourg, about 40 miles to the east. They flew in a “map of the world” technique, rising and falling with the earth’s altitude.
“It was an hour’s worth of up and down, left and right,” Ripper said.
“As tough as any drop I’ve been in,” said U.S. Army Maj. Lance Manske of Roseburg, Ore., a member of the 75th Ranger Regiment of Fort Benning, Ga., and veteran of 500 jumps.
But the show must go on, as the parachutists did what they call a “Hollywood drop” — 35 pounds of gear instead of the 100-pound loads they might use on a tactical mission. Manske said today’s soldier has a different life than those who parachuted into Normandy on June 6, 1944.
“It hard to compare it to anything we do now and that’s because of technology,” Manske said, who served in both the first Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom. “What they did was a phenomenal event. It’s a whole new ballgame. What those guys did led the way for what we do today.”
A line of cars was backed up on the narrow road lined by hedges that connected the village and the drop zone. Many walked the two miles from the festivities in town. French police officers estimated there were 3,000 to 5,000 people in the crowd.
Ripper said he was heartened by the warm welcome from the French people. They applauded the parachutists as they walked in from the field.
“People are coming up to us and wanting our autographs,” Ripper said.