82nd Airborne Paratroopers take part in 65th D-Day anniversary in Normandy, France
June 22, 2009
- Paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne travelled to Normandy, France to take part in the 65th anniversary of D-Day
- The Paratroopers made a jump into France with airborne forces from other countries
- Thet toured WWII battlefields and met with veterans of the Normandy campaign
- The Prataroopers were welcomed into the homes of the French people
Sixty-five years ago, Paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division jumped into history as part of the Allied invasion of occupied France during WWII. This year, Paratroopers from the Division made another historic jump into France, this time as part of the week-long celebration of the 65th anniversary of the D-Day liberation.
Forty Paratroopers journeyed to Normandy, France from June 1 - 8 to support the commemoration of the D-Day landings, both surface and airborne. The Team, led by Lt. Col. Matt Shatzkin, commander of 407th Brigade Support Battalion and Command Sergeant Major James Westover, of 1-73rd Cavalry Squadron, was comprised of Troopers from the Division's 1st, 2nd, and 4th Brigade Combat Teams and the 18th Fires Brigade, to include the Division NCO, Jumpmaster and Soldier of the Year.
Upon their arrival in France, the Paratroopers were immediately met with first-class treatment from the residents of St. Mere-Eglise, the first town liberated by U.S. Soldiers. After the troopers conducted manifest preparations for the commemorative airborne operation that would occur later in the week, families throughout the town opened their doors to over 330 Paratroopers for a five-course hospitality meal, to show their undying appreciation for their town's liberation.
"We were treated like descendants of Gods," enthused CPT Scott Shoop, commander of Headquarters Battery, 2nd Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Battalion.
The following day, the team participated in a staff ride led by Col. (Ret) Keith Nightingale, former commander of the 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Following an overview of the Allied Landings on D-Day, Nightingale took the group to Utah Beach and two sites surrounding St. Mere Eglise, culminating with a detailed description of the fight for LaFiere Causeway, overlooking Iron Mike 2 Drop Zone, where the Team would jump later that week. The Team had the pleasure of hearing Julius Eisner, a World War II and 82nd Airborne Division veteran who executed three parachute jumps during WWII, describe the D-Day airborne operation of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment.
At this point, the team split into two, with one group supporting ceremonies at Mont St. Michel, Picauville, Chef Du Pont and a museum expansion at St Mere Eglise, and the other group supporting the Omaha Beach Cemetery Commemorative Ceremony. Paratroopers were thrilled and considerably moved to connect and dialogue with D-Day veterans from multiple airborne units, including the 505th and 508th Parachute Infantry Regiments. Some members of the team also had the opportunity to meet President Barack Obama, former Senator Bob Dole, Secretary of Veterans Affairs General (Ret) Eric Shinseki, and actor Tom Hanks.
The week culminated with an airborne operation involving over 500 U.S., French and British Paratroopers jumping into Iron Mike Drop Zone, next to the LaFiere Causeway outside St. Mere Eglise. Following a ceremony at the Iron Mike monument, the Paratroopers led the U.S. contingent in a march into St Mere Eglise, along which they were cheered by the town's citizens. At the Mayor's celebratory dinner that evening, the paratroopers presented the Mayor a gift, and thanked him for his undying appreciation of the 82nd Airborne Division.
"He was enormously appreciative, and only asked that we would return each year," said Lt. Col. Shatzkin.
During the once-in-a-lifetime experience, the Paratroopers were extremely humbled and moved to meet the very people who have made their Division what it is today, Shatzkin said.
"It's one thing to read about history, and another to walk the ground where history occurred, but it's something completely different to meet those who made history," he said.