By Kristin Molinaro, The BayonetJune 12, 2009
Landing inside Drop Zone T off the coast of Normandy, 34 Soldiers with the 1st Battalion (Airborne), 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment, participated in a historic parachute jump with paratroopers from around the world June 7 commemorating the 65th anniversary of D-Day.
Dropping out of the sky barely 20 miles from the original site where thousands of U.S. troops made landfall at Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, the troops were part of a weeklong event drawing together world leaders, including President Barrack Obama and his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy, as well as a number of veterans from the invasion.
"Feeling the ghosts of those who were left behind and seeing those reminders meant a lot to the troops. They could truly grasp the gravity of the whole paratrooper concept and spirit," said LTC Jon Ring, the battalion's commander.
"Today, we have such modern technology and weapons. We would in no way be as bold and audacious as those men had to be," Ring said. "I couldn't help but think 'what the heck were these young guys thinking as they were loaded into airplanes and getting ready to invade the continent'' There were places where they just had to go for it and rush into incoming fire. They knew the mission that needed to be done."
The Soldiers toured historic battlefields, visited various French cities and met with villagers who remembered the invasion, he said.
A memorial plaque in the town of Amfreville, France, one of several the troops visited, recognizes the 507th's sacrifices with the words: "It is fitting and proper, therefore, that this monument be dedicated to the proud, courageous and tenacious men and officers of the 507th, many of whom lie in peace here in Normandy."
For SSG Emmanuel Rodriguez, an airborne instructor with the battalion, the experience left him with greater understanding.
"We visited areas where the biggest battles were fought and I could see craters still in the ground from the ordnance and bullet holes in gates," Rodriguez said. "It was emotional ... just to think of what they went through.
"So many have died to free people and liberate countries to get us to where we are today. Without them who knows how the world would be," he said.
The paratroopers also paid a special visit to the American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, France.
The cemetery contains the grave markers for 9,387 troops, according to the American Battle Monuments Commission.
Several gravesites in the cemetery are for paratroopers assigned to the 507th.
"At an hour of maximum danger, amid the bleakest of circumstances, men who thought themselves ordinary found it within themselves to do the extraordinary," said President Barack Obama, during a ceremony at the cemetary honoring the troops. "The sheer improbability of this victory is part of what makes D-Day so memorable."
The 507th were to be dropped west of the Merderet River on D-Day, but most landed in the river and drowned. However, a small force of the 2nd Battalion was able to secure a perimeter along the western bank of the river, according to an account published in the commemorative book U.S.A. Airborne.
Approximately 215,000 Allied soldiers were killed or wounded during D-Day and the ensuing three months it took to secure the capture of Normandy, a battle that helped free France from Nazi control.
The battle for Normandy is considered a pivotal point in the Allied victory in World War II.
Ring said the historic journey through the battlefields of WWII has left his troops with a deeper connection to their heritage.
"They now know they're responsible for passing our heritage to the future generations of paratroopers that come through the 507th," he said. "We are walking in the footsteps of those who bled a lot for us."
(Chaplain (CPT) Neal Hicks, 1st Bn. (Airborne), 507th, contributed to this story.)