As part of being on a jump (Omaha Beach) there is a lot of “hurry up & wait”. That’s army talk for showing up, being ready to go, and then waiting hours & hours & hours to actually, you know, GO!
Last week Thursday, I dropped Dave off at the Abbaye de Montebourg where the Liberty Jump Team was headquartered for D-Day, and then took my mom & kids for a little touring of the D-Day activities. Of course we went to Sainte–Mère–Église first. It is the center of all things D-Day. It is the village the paratroopers landed in, as a surprise move to liberate the French from the Germans. Many of our young men died that day. One of the notable stories is best captured from wikipedia:
A well-known incident involved paratrooper John Steele of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR), whose parachute caught on the spire of the town church, and could only observe the fighting going on below. He hung there limply for two hours, pretending to be dead, before the Germans took him prisoner. Steele later escaped from the Germans and rejoined his division when US troops of the 3rd Battalion, 505 Parachute Infantry Regiment attacked the village, capturing thirty Germans and killing another eleven. The incident was portrayed in the movie The Longest Day by actor Red Buttons.
As we walked into the town square, having been blessed with a parking space 1/2 block away, Dane gasped when he saw the parachute hanging from the church:
“Is he stuck up there? Still?” Brief silence, then: “I think he’s dead by now.”
Sometimes it is very hard not to laugh. I explained that it was not the real John Steele, but a replica the French hang up every D-Day to remind everyone of the bravery the Americans exhibited during the liberation. I had to let him look through my telephoto lens to make sure before he believed me and could relax.
We were very lucky to look around, see the amazing stained glass windows inside the church, famous for the US paratroopers imbedded in the “new” windows, the monuments scattered around town and the even-now grateful locals.
I managed to buy two prints, signed in person by WWI Vet Jim Radford. I am in awe that a man that saw so much death, destruction and horror still had the fortitude to come back to Normandy, and do so with grace, kindness and a wicked sense of humor. It was a joy and a privilege to shake his hand.
Later, those same two prints made Dave’s day. I swear he pinked away a tear or ten. Sadly, his jump that day in Graignes was scrapped. The Liberty Jump Team uses on old, actual D-Day veteran, C-47 aircraft. Just before the first load dropped, one of the engines sputtered and died. The captain quickly deboarded his entire flight in one drop, and returned to the Cherbourg airport on one engine. Safely landing the aircraft without any further damage or injury.
I received a text from Dave just as I was trying to find the DZ (dropzone) in the middle of nowhere:
“The C-47 lost an engine. Dom is trying to get one from the Airborne Museum.” Dom being one of the team founders. They did not get the engine fixed that day, but it was fixed in time for the big Iron Mike jump on Sunday. Still, a paratrooper is always disappointed when the jump is scrapped. Dave was feeling a little down to have missed the jump and the day in Saint-Mère-Église. Being able to pull out my signed prints, made up for a day sitting on the tarmac… and then some.