Largest airborne operation since WWII commemorates D-Day 75

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U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Irving Locker, a World War II veteran who was assigned to the 160th Antiaircraft Artillery Gun Battalion, 4th Division, 1st Army, smiles for a photo June 9, 2019. Locker was part of the invasion force who stormed the beaches of Normandy 75 years ago. (Air Force photograph by Senior Airman Devin M. Rumbaugh)

The Joint Task Force Normandy conducted a commemorative airborne drop to honor the historic airborne operation conducted by Allied forces on June 6, 1944, just outside of Sainte-Mère-Église, France, June 9, 2019.

The commemorative airborne operation provided an opportunity for multinational forces to both honor the past and work to secure the future.

Training in the very location where the liberation of France, and then Europe, first began 75 years ago exemplified the Allied partnerships and bonds forged long before D-Day.

Multiple airborne demonstrations were held throughout the day including jumps from U.S. military static-line paratroopers, U.S. military free-fall teams and civilian parachutists. These paratroopers and parachutists landed in the Iron Mike drop-zone in front of thousands of U.S. service members, Allied service members and civilians who spent the day spectating the events and listening to the stories of World War II veterans, also in attendance.

Military-free-fall parachutist prepare to land at Iron Mike Drop Zone outside of Sainte-Mère-Église, France June 9, 2019. The parachutists were from six European nations and members of the U.S. military. (Air Force photograph by Senior Airman Devin M. Rumbaugh)

In total, over 900 military paratroopers and 110 civilian parachutists from seven countries participated in what is known to be the second largest airborne operation since WWII.

After descending from the skies and landing in the bumpy fields of the Iron Mike drop-zone, just as Allied forces had on June 6, 1944, one U.S. paratrooper felt overcome with emotion.

“It’s incredibly overwhelming,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Heath Jr., 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, Chosen Company mortar section leader. “As you know, everyone is jumping here today to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of France and Normandy. Ever since I was a kid I wanted to be a paratrooper — I was always studying and reading about World War II and the fact I’m jumping here today is absolutely mindblowing.”

U.S. Army World War II and D-Day veteran, Vincent Speranza, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division paratrooper smiles mid-conversation during the D-Day 75 Commemorative Airborne Operation outside Sainte-Mère-Église, France, June 9, 2019. Speranza fought in the Battle of the Bulge between 1944 and 1945, a battle that would result in the highest casualties of any operation during WWII. Speranza believes in the importance of sharing his story, his piece of history, with others because as he says, and Winston Churchill has similarly said, “Those who are not willing to learn history are doomed to repeat it.” (Air Force photograph by Senior Airman Kristof J. Rixmann)

To achieve his childhood dream of becoming a paratrooper, Heath credits one individual for helping him see it through.

“I just want to thank my brother who always believed I could do it when other people said I couldn’t,” said Heath.

After the last paratrooper had dropped for the day, the commemoration was concluded with the annual Iron Mike Ceremony. The ceremony honored the 254 U.S. soldiers who were killed, and the 525 wounded during the Battle for La Fiere Bridgehead from June 6-9, 1944.
 

    The following countries were represented in this multinational commemorative event:

  • 53 paratroopers from Belgium
  • 120 from France
  • 55 from Germany
  • 60 from the Netherlands
  • 20 from Romania
  • 57 from the United Kingdom
  • 780 from the United States

 

The Patrouille de France, the French Air Force aerial demonstration team, conducts a flight over Iron Mike Drop Zone, outside of Saint-Mere-Eglise, France June 9, 2019. The D-Day 75 Commemorative Airborne Operation consisted of flyovers and over one thousand personnel drops into the drop zone, in honor of Operation Overlord, June 6, 1944. (Air Force photograph by Senior Airman Devin M. Rumbaugh)

    Participating U.S. military units in the commemorative airborne operation included the:

  • 82nd Airborne Division
  • 75th Ranger Regiment
  • 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne)
  • 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team
  • 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division
  • Army Ranger Training Brigade
  • 1st Battalion, 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment
  • 503rd Airborne Military Police Battalion
  • U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command
  • Special Operations Command in Europe
  • U.S. Air Force in Europe
  • 86th Airlift Wing
  • 37th Airlift Squadron
  • XVIII Airborne Corps
  •  

    Four F-15E Strikes Eagles, assigned to the 48th Fighter Squadron, Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England,conduct a fighter escort for 23 aircraft dropping personnel into Iron Mike Drop Zone, outside of Saint-Mere-Eglise, France June 9, 2019. The F-15s were painted in honor of their predecessor aircraft, the P-47s Thunderbolts from World War II. (Air Force photograph by Senior Airman Devin M. Rumbaugh)

     
    A static-line paratrooper prepares to land as a U.S. Air Force C-130J Super Hercules, assigned to the 37th Airlift Squadron, Ramstein Air Base, Germany, passed overhead during the D-Day Commemorative Airborne Operation over Iron Mike Drop Zone, outside Saint-Mere-Eglise, France June 9, 2019. Approximately 23 aircraft dropped over one thousand personnel in honor of the airborne operation held on June 6, 1944. (Air Force photograph by Senior Airman Devin M. Rumbaugh)

     
    International Patatroopers participating in the D-Day Commemoration Airborne Operation fall into Iron Mike Drop Zone outside of Saint-Mere-Eglise, France June 9, 2019. More than 900 military paratroopers and 110 civilian parachutists from seven countries participated in the historic event. (Air Force photograph by Senior Airman Devin M. Rumbaugh)

     
    A U.S. paratrooper walks with a U.S. flag on his shoulders after conducting a static-line jump into Iron Mike Drop Zone outside of Saint-Mere-Eglise, France June 9, 2019. Paratroopers conducted the largest airdrop since Operation Neptune June 6, 1944. (Air Force photograph by Senior Airman Devin M. Rumbaugh)

     
    A military-free-fall paratrooper lands as a United States Air Force CV-22 Osprey, assigned to the 352nd Special Operations Wing flies above the Iron Mike Drop Zone outside of Saint-Mere-Eglise, France June 9, 2019. Iron Mike Drop Zone is a historic location to Operation Overlord. (Air Force photograph by Senior Airman Devin M. Rumbaugh)

     
    U.S. Air Force Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian, United States Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa commander, and Maj. Gen. James J. Mingus, 82nd Airborne Division commander, converse during an intermission in between airborne demonstrations outside Sainte-Mère-Église, France, June 9, 2019. The airborne demonstrations, which featured 900 military paratroopers, commemorated the U.S. – led airborne operation during D-Day, June 6, 1944. Following the airborne demonstrations, Mingus, as guest speaker, spoke during the annual Iron Mike Ceremony honoring the 254 U.S. soldiers who were killed, and the 525 wounded during the Battle for La Fiere Bridgehead from June 6-9, 1944. (Air Force photograph by Senior Airman Kristof J. Rixmann)

     
    French local, Louis Boyer, parachutist, gets a moment of shut-eye after jumping from a C-47 Skytrain and landing into the Iron Mike drop-zone outside Sainte-Mère-Église, France, June 9, 2019. Boyer, 17, was the youngest individual, out of over 1,000 paratroopers and parachutists, to participate in the D-Day 75 Commemorative Airborne Operation — it was also the first time Boyer had jumped from a C-47. (Air Force photograph by Senior Airman Kristof J. Rixmann)

     
    Thousands of spectators gather to see the D-Day 75 Commemorative Airborne Operation honoring the airborne operation launched on D-Day, June 6, 1944, outside Sainte-Mère-Église, France, June 9, 2019. In total, over 900 military paratroopers and 110 civilian parachutists from seven countries participated in what is known to be the second largest airborne operation since World War II. (Air Force photograph by Senior Airman Kristof J. Rixmann)

     
    A French boy, dressed in a mock WWII-era uniform displaying the American flag, Canadian flag and an illustrated pin stating “I heart our veterans,” extends his arm waiting to high five one of the many U.S. static-line paratroopers walking by during the D-Day 75 Commemorative Airborne Operation outside of Sainte-Mère-Église, France, June 9, 2019. Next to him, a French girl, extends her hand to give the paratroopers a token of gratitude which says “Thank You,” in four different languages. Thousands of spectators showed up for the multinational commemorative events to witness an airshow and 900 paratroopers descend from the skies into the Iron Mike drop-zone, commemorating D-Day, 75 years ago. (Air Force photograph by Senior Airman Kristof J. Rixmann)

     
    A U.S. static-line paratrooper gives his military service patches to the eager hands of French boys and girls outside of Sainte-Mère-Église, France, June 9, 2019. The military service patch, a unique design embodying the unit it represents, is a highly coveted souvenir for children in Normandy during D-Day commemorations. (Air Force photograph by Senior Airman Kristof J. Rixmann)