Military News

Monday, June 15, 2015

Paratroopers visit Normandy for 71st D-Day anniversary

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 saw."

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 feel like."

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 is today.

"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."

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