Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Richard Lamb leads jumpers from the WWII C-47 transport plane “Tico Belle.” Lamb jumped into Normandy, France, for the 75th anniversary of D-Day and serves as the military liaison for the Round Canopy Parachuting Team-USA nonprofit organization. Photo by Dave Sirak.
In the early hours of June 6, 1944, known as D-Day, more than 13,000 paratroopers jumped from C-47 transport planes into Normandy, France, to begin the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe. Once on the ground, the paratroopers blocked the German army’s exits, destroying bridges and securing roads that would be used as attack lanes for the 160,000 Allied troops about to storm the beaches of northern France. Though extremely costly — 4,414 Allied troops were killed that day — the massive assault led to the country’s liberation and, ultimately, the defeat of the Third Reich.
With courage and audacity, the Allied paratroopers, including thousands of Americans from the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, spearheaded the Normandy invasion. Nearly 80 years later, the United States chapter of the Round Canopy Parachuting Team, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization known as RCPT-USA for short, ensures that the legacy of those brave men (and the paratroopers who came after them) endures.
Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower speaks with American paratroopers on the evening of June 5, 1944, as they prepare for the Battle of Normandy. The men are part of Company E, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, at the 101st Airborne Division’s camp in Greenham Common, England. US Army photo via the Library of Congress.
Each year, in the days surrounding the anniversary of D-Day, dozens of RCPT-USA’s members, along with other parachutists from the organization’s 12 sister chapters, dress up in WWII combat attire, donning olive-drab metal helmets and brown leather jump boots. Then, just like the Allied paratroopers did on June 5, 1944, they load into C-47s bound for the coast of Normandy.
While most RCPT-USA jumpers wear an updated version of a World War II-era round-canopy parachute, they still hook up to the same anchor-line cables used by the soldiers who dropped in on D-Day. Other team members load onto planes wearing a freefall chute — and, perhaps, even some of the last living Allied paratroopers strapped to their chests. Then, with a crowd gathered below, the team jumps into historic World War II locations, such as La Fière.
Jumpers from the Round Canopy Parachuting Team-USA perform commemorative airborne demonstrations in the United States and Europe to increase awareness and educate the public about the sacrifices and heroism of Allied paratroopers from World War II onward. RCPT-USA photo by Gary Baitinger.
June 6 isn’t the only day of the year that RCPT-USA members strap on their parachutes. In September, many of the organization’s jumpers travel to the Netherlands for a similar reenactment honoring the World War II paratroopers who fought in Operation Market Garden. They also participate in air shows and conduct training sessions to maintain their jump currency.
Of RCPT-USA’s more than 600 members, roughly 90% are vets, including the nonprofit’s president, Bill Markham. A retired Army lieutenant colonel, Markham told Coffee or Die that transitioning to civilian life can be challenging for many vets. It was for him.
“I left one day being someone that could be looked to for help or guidance,” Markham said. “Then the next day, I went to being a nobody.”
In 2021, World War II veteran US Army Sgt. Dan McBride poses for a photo while holding a portrait of himself. McBride died in 2022 and was a paratrooper assigned to the 101st Airborne Division. US Air Force photo by Wesley Farnsworth.
A cancer diagnosis and his subsequent recovery were what eventually led Markham to RCPT-USA. In 2016, after nearly 40 treatments, the Army vet and his wife, Valerie, took an extended vacation to Europe. They ended up in Normandy for the 72nd anniversary of D-Day. When Markham saw “older guys like [him], guys that had gray hair and gray beards” parachuting in World War II uniform, he knew he had to dust off his jump boots. He joined RCPT-USA almost as soon as he returned home to Florida and has been a devoted member ever since.
During the spring and fall, RCPT-USA conducts round-canopy training sessions. At the events, dozens of the group’s members jump to maintain their currency, while newbies become airborne-qualified. Each season, the organization awards five scholarships to veterans so they can complete the basic parachuting course and become qualified for free. Taking care of vets is, after all, the organization’s primary mission — hence the motto that RCPT-USA is about “more than just a jump.”
Jenna Biter is a staff writer at Coffee or Die Magazine. She has a master’s degree in national security and is a Russian language student. When she’s not writing, Jenna can be found reading classics, running, or learning new things, like the constellations in the night sky. Her husband is on active duty in the US military. Know a good story about national security or the military? Email Jenna.
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