D-Day is an iconic day in western history, especially in the countries who participated and sacrificed. I have been the luckiest guy in the world to be able to jump to re-create the jump of the 82nd Airborne Division on 5 June 1944. And I got to do it twice!
This year, however, I have a different job and not on airborne status any longer. However, I have a good French friend who really wanted to go for the 75th anniversary. I couldn’t resist and went on my own dime over to France and brought the wife with me this time so she could see what all the excitement was about.
We used our Alaska miles to fly Icelandair from IAD to Paris via Keflavik. Pretty good deal for business class except for the fuel surcharge, but at least reasonable at $143 (as opposed to BA surcharge at $226). Icelandair Business Class is not the greatest, but it is Business Class.
Because my friend and I only decided to book this trip in January, there were slim picking in terms of hotels. Not that there are very many chain hotels in the region anyway. I ended up using Hotels.com for the first time and got a decent room, but it was in Pont L’Eveq at a nice hotel called Lion D’Or (Golden Lion). Since it was a bit of a drive to the American Sector, we spent most of the first day in the British Sector, including the famous Pegasus Bridge.
We spent the next day driving our to see Mont Saint Michel, I’ll talk about that in a separate post. Then the main event at St. Mere-Eglise for the jump. Everything in town is around the beautiful central square.
The church is at the center of that and is the famous place where one of the paratrooper’s chute got hung up on the steeple. He hung there and played dead until the Germans finally figured it out and captured him. His name was John Steele and you can read about him here. The church is still draped with a chute to commemorate his story.
This being the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, there were a lot more people than past years and way more tanks and other military vehicles. Really amazing that people have kept these running all these years later.
I really like this owner’s camo scheme including sandbag armor.
The M-10 Tank Destroyer above is not something you often see. They paraded all the vehicles shown around all the towns in the area and it took over an hour for them all to pass.
The Airborne Museum on the edge of the square is a must-see and really a first class job of presenting the history of both airborne and glider troops.
Finally, it was time for the jump. We walked the two miles (three km) to the drop zone. We missed the initial drop and I guess a lot of people thought that was it because they were streaming out. I knew from personal experience that there would be about eight waves of planes coming through and dropping paratroopers. In the past years, we jumped just with French and German troops, but this year the British showed up too. As always there were a smattering of the other NATO countries jumping, most with the Special Forces who jump near the end and often use their special (MT-6) chutes which are very steerable. This is the chute I jumped the most with and they are a lot of fun. The typical American troops use the new T-11 chutes which is huge and meant for a 220 lb. paratrooper with full load. When you are only jumping Hollywood it makes it a slow decent and a very soft landing. You can easily spot the T-11 due to its square shape. French and other countries were mainly still using the round T-10 chutes I first trained on.
D-Day week in Normandy is so iconic, it really should be on everyone’s bucket list – especially if you have ever jumped out of a perfectly good airplane! Anyone else out there been to the D-Day sites?