Paratroopers pay tribute to Operation Varsity 65 years later
April 5, 2010
REES, Germany - Imagine your heartbeat racing uncontrollably at the speed of 160 beats per minute. You're filled with anticipation and uncertainty. No one knows what will happen next. The sound of small arms fire and artillery echoes through your head, and here you stand, above it all just waiting to hear one word - GO!
Those were the thoughts racing through the head of British paratrooper Frank Butt while approaching the drop zone at Hamminkeln, Germany, during World War II. More than 16,000 paratroopers and several hundred aircraft were involved in the original assault in 1945, deemed Operation Varsity, which was the largest in history to be conducted in one day at one location.
In celebration of the 65th Anniversary of Operation Varsity, Butt returned to the site to witness Soldiers from the 21st Theater Sustainment Command's 5th Quartermaster Detachment conduct an airborne operation with British, German and Dutch paratroopers March 27.
Although it has become a yearly event for British paratroopers, it was the first time the U.S Military has jumped here since the 17th Airborne Division conducted its airborne operation with the 6th British Airborne Division in WWII.
In March 1945, the Rhine was the final barrier separating the Allies from the heart of Germany. Plans were underway to cross this barrier and capture the Ruhr, Germany's industrial heartland. With the capture of the Ruhr, Germany's war machine would eventually collapse. The area chosen by the Allies to make the amphibious crossing was between the German cities of Emmerich and Wesel. The 17th Abn. Div. and the 6th British Abn. Div. assisted the crossing by seizing several important objectives in a massive daylight airborne assault.
"I am proud to be a part of such a big piece of history," said Spc. Winston H. Cartier III, an airborne and air assault qualified Soldier with the 5th QM Det., who is a native of St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. "It felt good up there, and I had a soft landing which is always good."
Hundreds of German civilians, British army veterans and civilians, and American Soldiers gathered to watch as 120 military paratroopers conducted a joint airborne operation from eight Air Force C-130 Hercules aircraft into the damp farmlands of Rees.
"I look forward to the anniversary every year," said Wolfgang Schmidtchen, a native of Rees, Germany. "My father often recalls the events that took place on that day 65 years ago when he was just a teenager."
"This anniversary is the biggest event in our town and hundreds of people show up to witness it every year," Schmidtchen added.
The actual operation during WWII took place in Hamminkeln, which is about seven kilometers from Rees. But due to modern advancements in the area, the jump and the majority of the festivities are now conducted in Rees.
The anniversary celebration consisted of the airborne operation, a church service, a wreath laying ceremony, a reception at the Rees city hall and a dinner in Hamminkeln.
Several Soldiers who jumped during the anniversary had family ties to the actual operation, including Staff Sgt. Ben C. Cowie, the noncommissioned officer in charge of 5th QM Det.'s portion of Operation Varsity. Cowie is a native of Des Moines, Iowa.
"My grandfather, Cpl. Edward Loarcher, participated in Operation Varsity 65 years ago," said Cowie. "Words can't explain how honored I am to be a part of this anniversary today."
"It's pretty ironic that I am a part of the first U.S. unit to jump into this area since my grandfather did it during the war," said Cowie. "Every time I'm in a plane I say a prayer to him, and every time I jump out of a plane I know he's right there with me so this jump was in honor of him."
"Over 65 years ago, a war started that would demand the attention of our bravest and most dedicated Soldiers. Many passed and many disappeared. Now, we have an opportunity to honor them all," said Butt.