It is late in Normandy, but if I don’t send this report now, it will be overcome by the big day’s events. The fifth of June would have been D-Day, but the weather did not cooperate. Truth be told, the allies were well into the deployment when they had to shift 24 hours. The weather here in the region changes even more than it does in Richmond County. Not only that, but a few miles away from wherever you are, the weather is 180 degrees different. So it went today.
I went for a run this morning. North this time, while the tide was out. I got a great appreciation for the depth of the beach at low tide. It was more than half a mile — HALF a MILE — across a fortified defense with literally years to prepare. Amazing testament to the tenacity of our boys. They attacked against the greatest of odds and won. There was a cost that we should never forget — I know that I will always remember — as will the French people of this region. They know who sacrificed for their freedom and they are eager to tell me about them. I am happy to listen … however poor my French.
So — the weather. There is a group of paratroopers who flew from Great Britain today to jump here. They used the same airplanes that we were to jump this evening. Weather was nice and favorable in France —not so much in England. The airplanes were grounded for much longer than they needed to be … which put the Liberty Jump Team behind. We were to jump an original Pathfinder DZ in St. Germain de Varreville as the sun set. We had to be done by 2200 with our four loads. Bottom line, we got two loads out … I exited the airplane with about two minutes to spare. I landed near a marker for a young American truck driver who was killed in the area on the 10th of June, 1944. Reality strikes again as I think about all the soldiers who are in harm’s way when we conduct combat operations.
The view out the paratroop door of the C-47 flying along the Normandy coast.
Weather isn’t the only wild-card variable around here. I headed to the memorial ceremonies at Goubersville and Amfreville this morning. I left in plenty time to be at Goubersville by 10 a.m. I did not account for the farmer that was moving his entire herd of cattle from one field across the road to another field. That was nearly a 10-minute stop. I got to the ceremony just on time. The ceremony was moving and I learned about an action of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment that I didn’t previously know about. I saw some friends and moved smartly to the second ceremony.
Amfreville is the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment’s historic home in Normandy. The regimental monument is there and many paratroopers fought and died there. There is a special relationship with my regiment and the residents of this area. I try to blend in. People recognize me … And I them … We exchange greetings. The pleasantries go beyond casual exchanges and we have real, friendly, emotional conversations. I am blessed. I see Gen. James Gavin’s daughters again and strike up conversation with them. They are phenomenal human beings who are awesome ambassadors for the 82nd Airborne Division and the United States of America. I wish I could bottle the atmosphere and bring it home with me. So much pride. So much sacrifice. The band plays the Dutch, German, American, and French national anthems. Luckily, I recognize them all. The only ones to sing are the French.
Jon Ring poses with two of Gen. James Gavin’s daughters.
It is now past midnight and into the 6th of June. I know that 75 years ago, better men than I could ever hope to be were swarming this area. They were far from home and were following their orders to engage everyone that wasn’t dressed like them. They were, and they remain, the “Greatest Generation.”
Sorry, but I cannot end without reflecting on one thing. I spent my life going overseas time and time again. There may have been times when my family wasn’t sure exactly what I was doing. But that was rare and short-lived. When I think about the American families who were eating their dinner on the 5th of June, 1944, completely unaware of what their sons were doing, I get choked up. Americans didn’t even know the liberation had begun for days after. Many sons, daughters, husbands, fathers, Americans were lost before anyone had a chance to consider it. To me, that’s a heavy thought. They were already gone. I thank God that they lived. I pray for their families every day.
Today is the day of days.
Vive la France!
Vive la Liberte!
Retired Army Lt. Col Jon Ring, JROTC instructor at Richmond Senior High School, is a member of the Liberty Jump Team and will be participating in events this week commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 1944.