Honoring World War II vets and D-Day

Mike Howard of Elk Horn did more than remember veterans on D-Day this year: he stepped, or jumped, back into history.

Howard traveled to Europe to participate in ceremonies surrounding the 75th anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 1944.

In a previous article, on his journey to Normandy, Howard explained how he was working with a group planning to do parachute jumps out of vintage World War II planes.

He promised a follow up following his trip - in his words:.

“We arrived on June 1 in Paris, France and set up our team’s headquarters in a Chateau near Beuzeville-la-Bastille, France. On June 2, as a group, we took a ferry from Caen, France to Portsmouth, England and from there a bus ride to the WWII airfield at Duxford, England. We spent time at Duxford doing demonstrations for the crowds in attendance for the event. Our jump scheduled at Duxford on June 4 was canceled due to weather.

On June 5, 200 jumpers boarded 32 WWII Dakota’s for the journey across the channel into France for our jump into Sannerville, France to commemorate “Operation Overlord.” I was on the plane called Aces High which was the lead plane for this event, and I was the second jumper out of the plane for this jump. I had the perfect seat, positioned by the open door of Aces High for the two and a half hour journey from England to France. We had additional support aircraft that included three WWII P41 Mustangs and three WWII British Spitfires. I was able to watch these planes fly next to, under and over us, and watch the other WWII C47 aircraft carry jumpers across the channel. Looking around at my fellow jumpers, I imagined what may have been on the minds of the WWII jumpers 75 years ago, on their journey across the channel at night, and under fire. It was a humbling experience.

Once we reached the coast of France, our spotter could not find the Drop Zone. Sound familiar? That also happened 75 years ago! Finally, they were able to locate the Drop Zone and I was the second person to jump and to land on Normandie. It was quite a sight to see 200 other parachutes in the sky. After I landed safely on France soil, I had photos taken of me with the pictures of the veterans that I carried with me. One was of my father, Grover Wayne Howard who served in the 96th Infantry Division in the South Pacific during WWII. Another veterans photo I carried was of Frederick J. Becker (aka Ted Becker) of Atlantic. Fred was with the 501st PIR of the 101st Airborne who served during WWII. Fred (Ted) Becker was part of the Famous “The Incredible Patrol,” 6-man team who went behind enemy lines during Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands and captured 32 German prisoners and brought them back through enemy lines near Arnhem. I also carried pictures in memory of Elk Horn local veteran, Commander Jim O’Keefe, USN and my wife’s father, a WWII veteran, James Ward. I even took my wife — a photo — along for the ride!

Several French citizens came out to greet and thank us for our jumps as well as for our veterans who liberated France 75 years ago. There were over 60,000 spectators for this event.

On June 6, we re-packed our parachutes, then toured various WWII battle sites in the surrounding area. Our tour guide was Mark Bando, WWII historian and author of several books who also jumped with us. Our evening meal was graced by the presence of several WWII veterans and we loved hearing their stories.

On June 7, our jump was canceled due to weather again and we went to Saint Mere-Eglise, the first town liberated, where members of the 82nd Airborne descended into the village and came under fire from German soldiers. One of the paratrooper’s chutes was caught on the church steeple! There is a replica of him and his chute hanging from the church yet today. We ended the evening with libations celebrating the liberation of St. Mere-Eglise 75 years before.

On June 8, we toured Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery. To realize the bravery of these men as they crossed the open beaches with interlocking fire was to realize the true heroism of these men who came ashore.

On June 9, I participated in a jump at Lessay France (Charles Lindbergh Field) with members of the ABC (Airborne Command, a French parachute team). I jumped out of D-Day Doll for this jump and was on the second stick, number 7 man. Again, we were greeted and thanked by many French citizens. That evening, we had a closing ceremony and dinner with our fellow French Paratroopers. Those of us who jumped at Lessay, were pinned with French Paratrooper Wings by the French Airborne Command.

After the 9th I spent the time until June 15 touring Normandy with my wife, her sister and brother-in-law.

This adventure has been an experience I will never forget. I will be jumping on southern France near Nice during August to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the invasion of southern France referred to as “Operation Dragoon.”

Howard said he was available to give presentations on his jumps on Normandy to any groups interested. Just contact Howard at mhowardems@gmail.com.

“If you would like to learn more about us, or to attend our training program, find us on Facebook at WWII Airborne Demonstration Team or on the web at wwiiadt.org.”

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