by Staff Sgt. Melissa Parrish
4-25 IBCT Public Affairs
6/15/2015 - SAINTE-Mère-Église, France -- Sixteen
paratroopers with the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th
Infantry Division from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and who are
currently deployed to Kosovo, received the opportunity of a lifetime to
attend festivities marking the 71st anniversary of Operation Overlord
June 2 through 8.
June 6, 1944 marked the commencement of Overlord - or "D-Day" for short.
A cross-channel invasion originating in England, the now famous air and
seaborne move on fortress Europe formally kicked off the Allied advance
into western Europe during World War II and spelled ultimate defeat for
Hitler's Nazi Germany.
To mark such a mammoth feat, the Spartan paratroopers attended and
participated in several ceremonies paying homage to fallen Soldiers and
visited the different areas of the operation such as Omaha and Utah
Beach, Sainte-Mère-Église, Picauville and Carentan.
Retracing the footsteps their forebears blazed 71 years ago allowed the
Spartan paratroopers to immerse themselves in the rich military history
of Normandy for an entire week.
Sgt. Timothy Brant, a paratrooper with Headquarters and Headquarters
Company, 4/25th IBCT (ABN), said spending the week in Normandy was a
dream come true.
"Getting to walk around and see the history and what the paratroopers
did here has been amazing," said Brant. "We visited all of the sites and
I was able to jump out of a period C-47 [Skytrain]. I jumped just
outside of the original Drop Zone D. I was able to look out all over
Normandy. It was an incredible feeling. You always hear the stories and
look at photos, [but] I was able to really see what these paratroopers
Given the presence of an authentic C-47 painted in the recognizable
D-Day invasion paint scheme and configured for paratroop drops, Brant
paid for the opportunity to jump from the same aircraft paratroopers did
71 years ago.
"As I sat in the aircraft looking out the door watching the ground go
by, I tried to imagine what those paratroopers felt like right before
they jumped in," said Brant. "I tried to imagine the thoughts that had
to be going through their minds ... I tried to envision what that would
But Brant had another reason for paying to jump from the storied
aircraft; his grandfather, Staff Sgt. Harold Smock, was a paratrooper
with the 82nd Airborne Division who parachuted into Normandy on June 6.
"My grandfather was a part of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment,"
said Brant. "He jumped into Normandy and participated in the operation. I
found out what he did after he passed away. I wish I knew exactly
where he was here, but just knowing I was in the same area as he was 71
years ago really is just an unexplainable feeling."
Also in Brant's possession was something that made its second trip to
Normandy - Smock's dog tags, which have stayed by Brant's side since
joining the Army.
"I jumped his dog tags into Normandy so they have been jumped in here twice," added Brant. "I carry them every single day."
For Spc. Michael Piper, a paratrooper with 1st Squadron (Airborne), 40th
Cavalry Regiment, 4/25 IBCT (ABN), the week spent in Normandy was a
humbling one and he, too, has a close connection to D-Day.
"My grandfather jumped into Normandy and when he landed he was shot in
the lung by a sniper," Piper said. "If the bullet would have hit six
inches higher it would have killed him and I wouldn't be here today."
Piper's grandfather, Lt. Theo Elmer, and paratrooper with the 82nd
Airborne Division, left a huge mark on Piper's life that led to where he
"My grandfather passed away when I was a teenager, but he made a huge
impression on my life," said Piper. "He is the reason I am a paratrooper
today. Just knowing what he did here has been an honor."
Piper carried his grandfather's photo with him on the last day of the
trip where he jumped into a ceremony with 300 other Allied paratroopers
onto Iron Mike Drop Zone just outside of Sainte-Mère-Église.
"The jump was the highlight of the trip for me," Piper said. "I am so
thankful to have this part of my lineage and to know people still
appreciate what they did here and are thankful for their sacrifices."
All of the Spartan paratroopers had smiles on their faces as they exited
the drop zone and shook hands with D-Day veterans and people from all
over the world that came out to cheer them on.
"This has been a fulfilling moment in my life and I will never forget it," added Piper.
"I know everyone that came took something away," said Brant. "Learning
something in a history book is one thing, but walking in the footsteps
and just being here puts it all into perspective."