By Jennifer Wallman, Fort Leavenworth LampJune 9, 2016
FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (June 9, 2016) -- After 41 years, retired Maj. Bob Cassella has his French jump wings.
During a ceremony June 6 at the Lewis and Clark Center, Cassella was awarded the Brevet Militaire de Parachutiste for a joint jump he did with French Airborne soldiers in commemoration of Normandy in 1975.
Cassella served in the Army from 1973 to 1993. Early in his career, he was stationed in Germany and was chosen to participate in a series of demonstration jumps for U.S. Army Europe's public affairs department after the 7th Army Parachute Team was inactivated.
"They would basically put together a pick-up team of available military guys who were skydivers, and we did shows," Cassella said.
Cassella jumped on numerous occasions including in Veghel in the Netherlands for the commemoration of Operation Market Garden, Ettelbruck in Luxembourg to commemorate the George Patton Remembrance Day and at the Berlin Templehof Airport for an airshow.
In June 1975, Cassella and other American skydivers participated in a jump with French paratroopers and skyivers in a commemoration of the Normandy invasion at Sainte Mere Eglise in northwestern France. For this joint endeavor, Cassella was told he and the other skydivers would receive recognition with French jump wings.
After years of waiting with no update on the status of his wings, Cassella, now retired from the Army and a contractor who instructs courses for Soldier for Life -Transition Assistance Program, reached out to French Liaison Officer Col. Nicolas Auboin.
"He came to see me one day with all the paperwork dated 1975 and told me, 'Well, I jumped with the French Army on the occasion of the 31st anniversary of the debarquement in Normandy so I jumped at Sainte Mere Eglise in 1975 and someone there told me I would be awarded the French wings and ever since then I had no news,'" Auboin recalled. "I said, 'OK. I'm going to try to see what I can do for you.'"
Although Auboin committed to helping Cassella, he wasn't hopeful there would be a positive outcome.
"To be frank, when he told me about the jump (that happened) 41 years ago, I didn't know where it was going to lead," Auboin said.
Auboin contacted the French Jumping School and submitted Cassella's jump records. Because Cassella kept his jump records intact, it made the process easier, Auboin said.
"Every jumper in the world keeps records of all their jumps," Auboin said. "It's not just him saying he jumped this day and this place."
Auboin said recorded jumps should detail the type of plane or type of helicopter used, name of the pilot, and have the signature of the pilot or another jumper.
"That is something very serious, which is recognized by all of the jumping schools or jumping academies," Auboin said.
The submission took less than 10 days for approval.
Auboin asked Cassella if he wouldn't mind waiting until June 6 to receive his wings in recognition of D-Day.
"He said, 'Would you mind waiting to the sixth of June for the award?'" Cassella recalled. "I said, 'You know after 41 years, a couple of weeks shouldn't make a difference.'"
Each French parachutist badge distributed is assigned a number corresponding with the period. Numbers are kept available for each period for situations like Cassella's, Auboin said. Cassella's jump wings are dated for 1975 with their own assigned number.
Cassella said he was surprised how quickly the process went after contacting Auboin.
"I didn't really think anything was going to happen," he said. "I thought after 41 years they would say, 'Noted, but there's nothing we can do.'"
Receiving the French jump wings is a tremendous honor, he said.
"It's a great honor getting the military parachutist badge from another nation, and the French wings are special because of the serial number," Cassella said. "The joke goes, 'You can go to the (Post Exchange) and buy a set of foreign wings and wear them and nobody knows the difference, but with French wings if you turn them over and there's no serial number, they are bogus. It's kind of a special award."