Story of 2 Jumps, 60 Years Apart
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
SAINTE-MERE-EGLISE, France, June 5, 2004 The combat controllers, aircrews and paratroopers made the drop of almost 700 paratroopers into the historic drop zone outside this French town look easy today. But don't use that to measure the accomplishment of 60 years ago this day in 1944.
Soldiers jump from an Air Force C-130 near Sainte-Mere-
Eglise, France, June 5 during a tribute to airborne soldiers who died in the
liberation of France in 1944. Equipment and conditions in the 2004
commemoration jump stand in stark contrast to that of 60 years ago. Photo by Jim
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"We can do the same thing day or night," said a combat controller, "But look what we have to work with."
Today's combat controllers have state-of-the art communications equipment and the global-positioning system. The aircraft can hold twice as many paratroopers, in the case of the Air Force C-130s, and four times as many in the case of the Air Force C-17s.
Now, imagine the night of June 5, 1944.
Portions of two U.S. airborne divisions and one British division jumped into Normandy. It was dark, the weather was rotten, and there was an unexpected wind that sent the C-47s the military version of the DC-3 all over the skies. Some pathfinders jumped in early, but their communications gear was primitive and in many cases wouldn't work. They did have lights that signaled to planes overhead where to drop and they set those up.
Now add to that: Someone is shooting at you.
"It was a tremendously difficult accomplishment from a purely military viewpoint," said the controller.
The late historian Stephen Ambrose in his book "D-Day" said that Operation Overlord commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower was, of all facets of the invasion, most concerned about the airborne operations. Officials at his headquarters estimated the paratroopers would take 80 percent casualties.
"We still would have done it if we knew that estimate," said Ralph Harp, one of the men who made the jump in 1944. "For the guys on the beach to be successful, we had to be here. Besides, it was the Army. It wasn't like we had a lot of choice."