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Paratroopers of D-Day Honored in Skies Over Normandy

  • Henry Ridgwell

The paratroopers who were dropped behind enemy lines in France on D-Day were vital in disrupting a German counterattack on the landing beaches. Seventy years later, teams of parachutists are re-creating those jumps in the skies over Normandy.

Members of the Round Canopy Parachuting Team boarded a historic plane Thursday at Cherbourg airport, ready to re-create a legendary mission.

The "Drag 'Em Oot," a WWII-era Douglas DC-3 Dakota, which flew 2 sorties over Normandy on June 6, 1944, at the end of a day's flying, Normandy, June 5, 2014 (H. Ridgwell/VOA).

The "Drag 'Em Oot," a WWII-era Douglas DC-3 Dakota, which flew 2 sorties over Normandy on June 6, 1944, at the end of a day's flying, Normandy, June 5, 2014 (H. Ridgwell/VOA).

Riding a Douglas DC-3 Dakota, nicknamed "Drag ‘Em Oot" — a piece of D-Day history that flew two sorties on June 6, 1944 — the parachutists wear traditional round canopies that fall more rapidly than modern square designs.

According to Sergeant Ben van Buren, the flight's jump master who is making his 100th jump, the chutes are ideal for a war zone but require more skill to use. He says it is difficult to imagine the bravery of the men who set out 70 years ago to fall right into the middle of a firefight.

“It was just absolutely flak-ridden in the area, a completely hostile environment," he said. "And they volunteered every day.”

French parachutist Jerome Auvret calls it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience — not that that makes the jump any easier. Auvret says he is a little apprehensive.

“But that’s normal. It’s okay to be apprehensive before a jump,” he said, explaining that he's jumping to honor those who fought on D-Day.

“To honor and say thank you to the Americans who came here to defend Europe,” he said. “And who liberated us from Nazi Germany.”

Around 13,000 U.S. paratroopers dropped into the chaos of Normandy in the early hours of D-Day. Scattered across the drop zones, they ultimately proved vital to protecting the landing beaches from a concerted German counterattack.

For the parachutists re-enacting the massive drop, it was an exhilarating experience — a small taste of what it might have been like for the parachuting heroes of 70 years ago.

With most of the human cargo delivered safely to the ground, the Dakotas — once more flying in formation as they did by the hundreds that day — returned to Cherbourg airport.

Co-pilot Mark Edwards calls the DC-3 a legend.

“Where do you begin? It’s the classic airplane," he said. "It’s done everything. It’s been everywhere. It’s still doing it.”

Now 71 years old, "Drag ‘Em Oot" still bears the bullet holes from the enemy fire she took on missions following D-Day.

A D-Day veteran and a survivor of the skies.
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