Monday, 10 June 2019 21:59

Dispatches from Normandy Part VII: Praying for a nice landing

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Jon Ring holds a U.S. flag that he jumped with over the tiny village of Angoville au Plain Jon Ring holds a U.S. flag that he jumped with over the tiny village of Angoville au Plain Photos courtesy of Jon Ring

Another early call this morning for a jump into the tiny village of Angoville au Plain. I mentioned the town the other day when I conducted a recon of the drop zone and visited the church. The 101st Airborne Division was dropped into this place on D-Day in 1944. There were many casualties from both sides in the area and two medics from the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment established a field aid station in the church to treat all casualties. 

The medics did their best to care for all and both sides avoided the aid station with effects of combat operations. Robert Wright was one of those medics. He made it through the war and was able to return to the village in the future and to foster a relationship with the villagers over the years. Theirs was a special bond. That bond remains to this day. 

Blood still stains the pews of a church at Angoville au Plain. Robert E. Wright said that they tried to keep the casualties toward the back of the church so that parishioners could continue to have services. 

 

I am part of the jumpmaster team today who will deploy jumpers from Drag ‘em Oot (the C-47 that deployed members of the 506th PIR onto this drop zone on D-Day) in real historic reenactment fashion. I'm living out another once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Who gets to do this? I never served in the 506th or the 101st Airborne Division, but I have plenty of my closest friends who have. My command sergeant major  — Michael Catterton — for my first year as a battalion commander had been the command sergeant major of the 1st Battalion, 506th in the 101st prior to us serving together. He was one of the best NCOs that I have been blessed to work with. His pride in the 506th was unmatched. Great organizations are marked by their great leaders and he was one of them. I had Mike Catterton in the forefront of my mind as I started the day today. I wish he could take part in some of these festivities sometime. 

Jon Ring's fellow jumpmaster on the C-47 Drag 'em Oot.

 

We moved to Cherbourg Airport to rig and load onto Drag ‘em Oot early in the morning for a 10 o'clock jump. I was on the second load so we had a bit more time at the airfield. Long enough to see several friends who were loading onto C-130s to fly back to Fort Bragg (center of the universe) or other places. I was also able to meet and talk to a few of the active members of the Airborne Ranger Training Brigade including the 507th PIR. They all related the great experiences that they had and expressed how the opportunity to participate had changed them. I was not surprised and could only wish that more of their compatriots could share the experience. I wished them safe travels and said that I would see them on a future DZ. Airborne!

I partnered with a jumpmaster who is fairly new to the team, but is very experienced and professional. We've worked together a couple times and understand each other well. He will control the door and I'll ensure the jumpers stay safe. It works well throughout. So well that most of those involved in the operation don't even know about the variables that are thrown at us and dealt with in the most safe and proficient manner. It was a pleasure and an honor to perform jumpmaster duties on this jump with this fellow jumpmaster. He is outstanding in every way.  

Safety is No. 1, and on Liberty Jump Team, we ensure that everyone is safe. Where safety is not in our hands, I ask God to ensure that everyone involved in the operation is safe. I then ask Him to keep me safe and healthy. In fact, I say some multiple of two prayers every time I jump — one for everyone involved and one just for me. Today, I said six. 

We confirmed with the aircrew that we were going to the same drop zone that they had just dropped and were going to fly essentially the same pattern. We would drop along a long-axis of the DZ drop heading and determine the initial jumper release point based on the results of us dropping a wind drift indicator on the first pass. The crew agreed to give us timing points along the way. As we approached the zone, we knew that we were coming from the wrong direction so we communicated that with the loadmaster. The pilots adjusted, but brought the airplane like five miles from the DZ. We adjusted again ... Then we got close enough to throw the wind drift indicators and verify our release point. The next run-in had jumpers onto the drop zone. On the fourth pass, the jumpmaster team jumped. It was a great jump where I landed nice and softly, avoiding all obstacles: creeks, fences, cows, and cow patties. Others were not so lucky and ended up wet or with manure on them … or almost on a spooked cow. I'm wondering, now, what would happen if you landed next to a cow and the cow ended up inside your parachute? That could make for some YouTube-worthy video.  

The Liberty Jump Team poses for a photo in front of the church at Angoville au Plain. 

 

The mayor of Angoville is on the drop zone with food and drinks for our team. He welcomes everyone as they make it off the wet field. He remembers. Others that I talk to also remember. One lady who was 10 during the Allied invasion recalls living in a field and eating only apples for 10 days after the Allies arrived. I cannot help myself but to think that apples aren't even on the trees in this region at this time of year. Maybe they had them stored in a fruit cellar. That's probably the case. 

We conducted a brief ceremony near the village memorial after the jump. During the ceremony, several team members were awarded their LJT wings. I had the honor of pinning two sets on. My jumpmaster partner addressed the crowd in a totally unplanned and spontaneous way. His words were spot-on and his emotions were evidence that he got what he came here for. He concluded with words that mean more to many participants of the weeklong festivities now than they ever did: “Vive la France!”

Regard for the concept of liberty is so strong in this tiny village that you could cut it with a knife. I can see it. I can feel it. I can taste it. Robert E. Wright (medic who treated casualties in the church) felt the sense so strong here that he wanted to be buried here. He is in the church's cemetery. 

Vive la France!

Vive la Liberte!

Last week, Jon Ring represented Richmond County when he jumped with the VFW Auxiliary flag.

 

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.