When U.S. paratroopers jumped onto French soil during World War II, they were greeted with gunfire and bombs. Today, 68 years later, they were met with cheers and handshakes.
Task Force 68, which is made up of U.S. service members from Fort Bragg, N.C., British, Dutch, German, and French soldiers, held a commemorative airborne operation in honor of their forefathers who landed on the shores Normandy and fought their way through Nazi infested France. Included in the task force are paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division, U.S. Army Civil Affairs & Psychological Operations Command (Airborne) and the 824th Quartermaster Company.
The muddy fields of La Fiere, outside of Ste. Mere Eglise, France, hosted thousands of on-lookers, June 3, to ensure that the bravery and heroic acts of World War II and D-Day are never forgotten.
"It feels great," said Capt. Henry Lifton, 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division. "To think that I've never jump anywhere other than Fort Bragg (N.C.) and I'm here where so many great men fought and (conquered). It's a great feeling."
Because of the strategic location of the La Fiere manor house next to the Merderet River, the manor and the bridge immediately below it, was one of the primary D-Day objectives. German infantrymen arrived at the manor June 5, forcing the family who lived there to hide in the cellar as U.S. troops made their way to the area. During the morning of June 6, 1944, three regiments jumped to their objectives, the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment had the best luck landing between Sainte Mere Eglise and the Merderet.
The paratroopers engaged the enemy over a four-day battle, successfully capturing and holding the bridge that ultimately helped ensure the D-Day beach landing success.
On June 6, 1944, 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily-fortified French coastline to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower called the operation a crusade in which "we will accept nothing less than full victory."
More than 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the D-Day invasion and by the day's end on June 6, the Allies gained a foothold in Normandy. The D-Day cost was high -- more than 9,000 allied Soldiers were killed or wounded -- but more than 100,000 soldiers began the march across Europe to defeat Hitler. About 340 U.S. troops are in the Normandy region to commemorate the 68th anniversary of this historic operation June 1-7.
The highlight of the Task Force 68's operation may have been the jump onto La Fiere, but it wasn't the only event they attended. The Task Force also attended memorial services and historical areas to honor and remember the men who fought and died so many years before.
A stop to Omaha Beach made Sgt. Israel Barroso, 301st Psychological Operations Company out of San Diego, think about the true meaning of being a paratrooper.
"This is hallowed ground. It's pretty intense being here. I don't know exactly how to explain it. You just have to respect it for what it is," explained Barroso. "It brings a new vigor of being an airborne Soldier. It's not just a maroon beret; or wearing a certain insignia-- it makes you think you haven't done enough. Makes you want to wake up and follow in their (World War II paratroopers') footsteps."