Monday, 10 June 2019 13:15

Dispatches from Normandy Part VI: War never happens the way you think it will

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Jon Ring performs a Jumpmaster Personnel Inspection on a fellow Liberty Jump Teammate. Jon Ring performs a Jumpmaster Personnel Inspection on a fellow Liberty Jump Teammate. Photos courtesy of Jon Ring

If there is a bigger day than the 6th of June during this series of events, for paratroopers, it would be the day of the "big" jump. The day that every American paratrooper should experience at least once in their life. The day when Allied militaries, exhibition teams, and others who are able to fit onto the schedule and into the plan conduct a large combined, joint airborne operation onto the historic drop zone of the 82nd Airborne Division 75 years ago. It is the holy grail of jumps ... and I have been honored to participate in a few. To celebrate the 75th anniversary of the original Operation Neptune jumps, the planners ensured that the jump would be on the weekend — which means that it is the 9th rather than the 6th. 


The Liberty Jump Team led the way for the big jump today by dropping jumpers from two C-47 Dakotas followed by another three aircraft from another team. We also finished the event by dropping jumpers from the lead C-47 in the final sortie following the approximately 1,000 military paratroopers who jumped from various aircraft with various country's equipment. I had the honor of performing jumpmaster duties on an airplane named Placid Lassie and jumping onto "Iron Mike I" DZ. I cannot begin to articulate the overwhelming sense of honor and pride and emotion that I personally feel to be able to be part of this operation. I'm not only responsible for myself as a participant, but for the safety and wellbeing of everyone on the aircraft and for them getting to the ground safely and ready for the next mission. I take that very seriously. But, my mind keeps going back to the paratroopers of ‘44 and what they must have been thinking about as they flew in silence ... and darkness ... from England to France. 

I think about the veterans who had made combat jumps previously in Africa and Sicily. They had a better idea what was ahead. I think of those who left their homes in Anywhere America and joined the paratroops because they were special ...and they got paid more. They had little idea what they were getting into. They thought they did. It's an easy mistake to make — imagining what war will be like and how you will respond. It never happens the way that you think it will. 

We jumped in the daylight today. I could see everything quite well ... not so in ‘44 when they jumped in the middle of the night. I think about the intense anti-aircraft fire that caused so many miss-dropped Paratroopers. I am thankful that nobody is shooting at us today!

I look at the faces and the names of the members of the Liberty Jump Team and realize that they are the legacy of freedom that has been handed down from our previous generation. Jil's dad, retired Lt. Col. Gordon Smith was the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment S4 or logistics officer when he jumped into Normandy. Gordon was shot in the fourth point of contact (ask a paratrooper) within the early hours of the campaign. He thought that his wound would slow progress of his troops so he ordered them to leave him and continue the mission. They left him with sufficient supplies and continued. Gordon soon lost consciousness and, when he awoke, he was in the hands of the Germans. 

The local German occupation force was not what one might think. The majority of the soldiers were not even German — they were conscripts from Eastern European conquered countries. The actual Germans that occupied the area were either old men who were farmers by trade or young boys. Gordon woke up in a makeshift field hospital in Goubersville where a German doctor spoke English with him. The doctor related that the Americans had helped him during the first war and he felt obligated to help Americans as he was able. Gordon noticed an older-looking German soldier sitting in the corner. He asked the doctor what he was there for. The doctor told him that the soldier was the one that shot him. He felt sorry about it and wanted to apologize. He brought a bottle of wine and a bowl of gruel. The doctor recommended drinking the wine while avoiding the gruel. So Gordon Smith sat there and shared a bottle of wine with the German soldier who shot him. Gordon was a guest of the Germans for the remainder of the war and had great stories about the crazy things that he went through. The one thing that struck me about Col. Smith was that he was always a leader — when he was a POW, if he was the ranking officer, he led those in his charge and advocated for them. 

I was in Normandy when Col. Gordon Smith received the French Legion of Honor. He fell ill during that trip and my paratroopers and I invaded the hospital in Cherbourg to visit him before heading back to the States. I'm glad we did because I never saw Gordon again. We provided the funeral detail less than a year later when he passed. I presented the U.S. flag on behalf of a grateful nation.

I am grateful for retired Lt. Col. Gordon Smith and today I jumped in his honor. 

Jumpers from the Placid Lassie pose with the U.S. flag that Jon Ring jumped with.

The legacies are endless. I do not tire of hearing them. 

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.