The formation of soldiers was formidable, each man staring forward with a fierce gaze. Their maroon berets were carefully positioned, signifying that this was not a regular unit; these were American paratroopers. They are the living legacy of the thousands of paratroopers who came before them and jumped into the fields and swamps of Normandy, France, 75 years ago this week.
The village of Picauville came together today at the USAF Monument in the center of town to remember those brave paratroopers, pilots, and air crews who flew over their town and dropped into their fields during the early hours of Operation Overlord. The ceremony had soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division and 173rd Airborne Brigade in attendance, as well as a unit from the German army, local school children, a contingent of Native American veterans, and hundreds of spectators — many dressed in period uniforms from the 1940s.
Only a single World War II veteran was present. With his generation of warfighters in their final years, Picauville will not have the honor of hosting them for much longer.
Staff Sergeant Cameron Tripp, one of the active duty paratroopers in attendance, spoke to Coffee or Die about what it meant to take part in the ceremony. “This is like the holy land for paratroopers,” Tripp said. “Every single soldier who goes to airborne school definitely wants to jump here some day.”
Tripp is not alone in his reverence for the area. As I walked the village’s streets and drove the country roads, I couldn’t help but imagine what it was like for those brave men to descend into Normandy and fight their way through the region. Many never made it out, and I was now walking in those heroes’ footsteps. The gravity of what took place here not so long ago weighed heavy.
The paratroopers standing in formation know all too well the toll war can take, but they can only imagine what it was like to make the combat jump that kicked off one of the largest invasions in the history of mankind.
The ceremony in Picauville ended with the paratroopers escorting the local school children up to the monument, one-by-one, so that the child could lay a flower down while the airborne soldier saluted. It was a touching display for all in attendance and showed that the memory of what our D-Day veterans did in this village will not be forgotten in the generation that will grow up without them present.
As many speakers during the ceremony noted, it is imperative to not let those memories die lest the sacrifices be forgotten and the mistakes that lead to a world war repeated. But if that ever happens, the American paratrooper will still be standing tall with fire in their eyes, ready to fall from the sky and deliver vengeance on those who wish to do evil.
Just as their forefathers did.
This is the first in a series of dispatches while Coffee or Die is in Normandy, France, for the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
Marty Skovlund Jr. was the executive editor of Coffee or Die. As a journalist, Marty has covered the Standing Rock protest in North Dakota, embedded with American special operation forces in Afghanistan, and broken stories about the first females to make it through infantry training and Ranger selection. He has also published two books, appeared as a co-host on History Channel’s JFK Declassified, and produced multiple award-winning independent films.