Paratroopers Commemorate D‑Day Anniversary

WASHINGTON, June 6, 2011 — About 300 U.S. sol­diers, most of them com­bat vet­er­ans them­selves, joined their British, French and Ger­man coun­ter­parts in Nor­mandy, France, to hon­or the sac­ri­fices of World War II vet­er­ans who con­duct­ed the D‑Day inva­sion 67 years ago today.

Operation Overlord — the D-Day landings -- in Normandy, France
Kei­th Night­en­gale, a retired Army colonel, talks to para­troop­ers with the Army Civ­il Affairs and Psy­cho­log­i­cal Oper­a­tions Com­mand task force par­tic­i­pat­ing in activ­i­ties com­mem­o­rat­ing the 67th anniver­sary of Oper­a­tion Over­lord — the D‑Day land­ings — while in Nor­mandy, France, June 1, 2011.
U.S. Army pho­to
Click to enlarge

The troops spent the last few days vis­it­ing key bat­tle sites dur­ing the mis­sion code-named Oper­a­tion Over­lord: the beach­es 160,000 troops stormed on June 6, 1944, dur­ing the largest amphibi­ous inva­sion in world his­to­ry; and St. Mere Eglis, the first French vil­lage to be lib­er­at­ed by U.S. 82nd and 101st Air­borne Divi­sion sol­diers, among them.

Through­out the vis­it, where they received brief­in­gs about the his­to­ry of the sites and got a first­hand look at the tac­ti­cal chal­lenges Allied forces faced, the troops par­tic­i­pat­ed in D‑Day com­mem­o­ra­tive cer­e­monies and met vet­er­ans of the inva­sion.

Today, they took part in cer­e­monies at Ponte du Hoc, the for­mi­da­ble cliff-top perch west of Oma­ha Beach that U.S. Rangers assault­ed; and Utah Beach, the west­ern­most of the five D‑Day land­ing beach­es.

“Get­ting the chance to be here has been an amaz­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty,” Army Capt. Ted Jacobs, exec­u­tive offi­cer for the Army Reserve’s 345th Tac­ti­cal Psy­cho­log­i­cal Oper­a­tions Com­pa­ny in Dal­las said by phone as he wait­ed for the Utah Beach cer­e­mo­ny to begin. “See­ing what these vet­er­ans had to go up against — the ter­rain, the weath­er sit­u­a­tion, … the wet, the cold, being in fear of their lives all the time — it real­ly does help you under­stand the chal­lenges they had to deal with.”

Jacobs is among about 150 Army Reserve para­troop­ers with the U.S. Army Civ­il Affairs and Psy­cho­log­i­cal Oper­a­tions Com­mand, with head­quar­ters at Fort Bragg, N.C., par­tic­i­pat­ing in Oper­a­tion Air­borne Nor­mandy, a mis­sion that is bring­ing togeth­er U.S. and Euro­pean forces for com­mem­o­ra­tions and inter­op­er­abil­i­ty train­ing.

Oth­er U.S. par­tic­i­pants include active-duty sol­diers from the 82nd Air­borne Divi­sion at Fort Bragg; 173rd Air­borne Brigade Com­bat Team at Vicen­za, Italy; 101st Air­borne Divi­sion at Fort Camp­bell, Ky.; and rig­gers from the Army Reserve’s 824th, 421st and 861st Quar­ter­mas­ter Com­pa­nies and U.S. Army Europe’s 5th Quar­ter­mas­ter Detach­ment.

One planned event, a com­bined jump involv­ing more than 700 U.S., British, Ger­man and French para­troop­ers, has been can­celed twice due to bad weath­er. Par­tic­i­pants are hop­ing the event may take place tomor­row, con­di­tions per­mit­ting, to enable every para­troop­er who jumps with anoth­er country’s jump­mas­ter to receive that country’s jump wings.

Mean­while, the sol­diers called the chance to meet with vet­er­ans of the D‑Day inva­sion the high­light of the vis­it.

“I feel hon­ored to have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to come out here and meet them face to face and shake their hands and say thank you,” said Army Sgt. Nathaniel Bier, a vet­er­an of Oper­a­tion Iraqi Free­dom serv­ing with the 301st Psy­cho­log­i­cal Oper­a­tions Com­pa­ny from San Diego. “That is one of the best things I will always remem­ber about this trip.”

With two com­bat deploy­ments in Afghanistan under his belt, Jacobs said, he gained a new appre­ci­a­tion for the odds the Allied forces — includ­ing his own father — faced dur­ing Oper­a­tion Over­lord.

Then-Sgt. Thomas Jacobs jumped into Nor­mandy dur­ing the D‑Day inva­sion, but has spo­ken lit­tle of the expe­ri­ence except to describe it as “godaw­ful” until recent years. “We grew up basi­cal­ly with the under­stand­ing that we did­n’t ask ques­tions about that,” his son said. “He was one of those vet­er­ans who just want­ed to for­get.”

Bier shares Jacobs’ per­son­al con­nec­tion to the D‑Day vis­it: his great-grand­fa­ther, who died before Bier was born, took part in the inva­sion. “My father real­ly looked up to him,” Bier said of his great-grand­fa­ther. “So he was even more excit­ed to hear that I was com­ing here than I was.”

Walk­ing the beach­es, see­ing the for­mi­da­ble ter­rain and stand­ing the ground his great-grand­fa­ther helped to lib­er­ate has giv­en Bier a spe­cial appre­ci­a­tion of the mag­ni­tude of what hap­pened in Nor­mandy. Paus­ing to reflect on it, he admit­ted, “I had to stop myself from tear­ing up, because it’s so pow­er­ful just to be here.”

Bier said he’s been par­tic­u­lar­ly struck by the coura­geous lead­er­ship the D‑Day non­com­mis­sioned offi­cers demon­strat­ed in the face of adver­si­ty.

“I don’t know how some of those sergeants kept going, how they kept their peo­ple moti­vat­ed as they were com­ing off the boats, and how they kept them mov­ing for­ward,” he said. “My hat is real­ly off to those sergeants.”

Jacobs said he, too, stands in awe of what the D‑Day vet­er­ans accom­plished, and declined to com­pare it with any­thing he has expe­ri­enced in com­bat.

“I would­n’t even dare to hold a can­dle to what those guys did,” he said. “Cer­tain­ly, what we are doing in Afghanistan is at times very dif­fi­cult and dan­ger­ous. But what these guys went through, there is no com­par­i­son. Ours is a coun­tert­er­ror­ism fight, so there are brief moments of inten­si­ty, but noth­ing to even come close to the scale of events that hap­pened here.”

Walk­ing the hal­lowed grounds where many made the ulti­mate sac­ri­fice “has giv­en me a deep­er appre­ci­a­tion for the lega­cy that has been left to us by the great­est gen­er­a­tion by these sol­diers who came over here and did what they did,” Jacobs said. “It fur­ther solid­i­fies the fact that I do not ever want to betray that kind of lega­cy, and want to con­tin­ue to build it and main­tain what they have carved out for us.”

A high school math teacher in the Dal­las pub­lic schools in his civil­ian life, Jacobs said he intends to share the expe­ri­ences he’s gained at Nor­mandy, like those from Afghanistan, with his stu­dents.

“All these val­ues from the mil­i­tary are just com­mon core good-cit­i­zen­ship skills and behav­iors that these chil­dren des­per­ate­ly need, par­tic­u­lar­ly those from the inner city,” he said. “So I incor­po­rate every­thing I can from my expe­ri­ence in the mil­i­tary: what it means to serve instead of always look­ing out for your­self or putting your­self first, [and] think­ing about putting oth­ers before your­self and ser­vice to the com­mu­ni­ty and coun­try,” he said. “That is just a core theme in my class­room.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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