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Friday, May 26, 2017

A Trip Back in Time; Normandy 2017 By Glenn Goddard

Ed Note: Glenn Goddard is a huge friend of WWPD has provided this excellent article and pictures for you to enjoy!

As a player of FOW since 2003, and posting when I have time, on the forums (Baghdaddy), I thought you might enjoy hearing about my latest adventure.  Some people are lucky and then there is me, the luckiest guy in the world.  No, I am not talking about my die rolls at last year’s Nationals, I am talking about the fact that I was invited to be part of the U.S. Army contingent who jump into Normandy every year to re-create the D-Day jump by the American Airborne troops.  I expect most military veterans and gamers dream of going to the annual celebration of one of the most epic battles in history, the Allied invasion of Normandy to liberate France and defeat the Nazi regime.

Ed Note: I did the jump at Nijmegen and the subsequent walk to Arnhem many years ago and it was a blast!

Our first day involved a commemoration ceremony at Carentan.  We started at the site of the "Cabbage Patch".  This was an epic battle between the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division and the 2nd Fallschimjager (German airborne).  This battle of Carentan was finally settled by a hand grenade and bayonet charge by the American paratroopers at great cost.  Read about the battle here.

At the ceremony, the French Government awarded several of the American veterans and one French Resistance veteran the Legion of Merit.  It was amazing to see the veterans, most of whom are in their 90s.  You really get perspective when you realize that there won't be many of these veterans left soon.  I should note that we had representatives from all the Allied nations plus German Soldiers.  Some might think it strange to have Germans at a ceremony like this, but what better way to demonstrate that we will never fight each other again than to be unified in commemoration.  After laying wreaths and a flyover by four C-130s, we then marched through the center of town with bands playing.  It was pretty cool and almost every structure in the town remains just as they were in World War Two.

Continuing on the next day, we took 4 June to visit Point Du Hoc, the famous assault up the cliffs by the Rangers and the ceremony at Utah Beach.
The French Government has spent millions to shore up the cliffs at Point Du Hoc so this key piece of history is not lost to time.  We came too early to see the museum there, but it was pretty spectacular nonetheless.  Hard to imagine being given the mission to climb these cliffs by hand and assault the bunkers there.  Not surprising that out of 225 Rangers, only 90 were standing by 8 June.  Here is there incredible story. 

As my boss said when we were looking at the cliffs, "when they drop you off in the boat and tell you the enemy is up there - what choice do you have but to go up?"

Yeah, that's what they had to climb while being shot at and grenades drop on them.

The bunkers are mostly intact and you can go down in them to get a sense of the fields of fire.
Continuing on from yesterday, we took 4 June to visit Point Du Hoc, the famous assault up the cliffs by the Rangers and the ceremony at Utah Beach.

At the Utah Beach ceremony, GEN Milley, the Army Chief of Staff gave a nice speech followed by one from one of the veterans who landed there.  They have a new museum there which was very nice and a must see.  Note the Sherman (76mm).  Everywhere I went all the Shermans were 76mm event though they didn’t have them at the time.  I think by the time they wanted monuments at the war’s end, all of them had been re-fitted.

It was a nice sunny day in the afternoon and you could really see the enormity of the beach.  Tides fluctuate a lot in Normandy.  The attackers had to land at low tide so the boats could avoid all the obstacles that might have sunk them.  However this meant that the Soldiers had to cross about 400 yards of open beach before they could get to the bluffs where I took these photos.  They were luck that the beach was not well defended and did not take the high casualties of Omaha Beach.  Pretty impressive to put yourself in their shoes and imagine what they had to go through. 


The highlight of the trip was being able to jump into Sainte-Mere-Eglise along with troops from the 82nd Airborne Division, 173rd Infantry Regiment and many of our allied airborne partners.  It was an early morning rise at 0430 and on to manifest.  We then took buses to Cherbourg, the site of the airfield from which the planes would launch.  We had four C-130Js, a German C-160, and a French Casa.  In addition, this was where the re-enactors had their aircraft, two C-47s and a P-47.  Brave guys to jump out of a 75 year old plane!

Our flight was half German Fallschirmjaeger and half U.S.  Packed in like sardines, we flew around a 100 feet for an hour before they let us out.

This was the exact same field the 82nd jumped into to capture the Pont de la Fiere bridge.  Thankfully, the fields were not flooded by the Germans as happened during the actual event and I had the softest landing I ever had.  This was my first jump with the new T-11 parachute, a lot better than the classic round canopy that they used in 1944.

Ed Note: The author safe on the DZ after the drop, he was dropped on time and accurately by the world famous and highly respect US Air Force!
After the ceremony at the statue of Iron Mike, I had the pleasure of promoting on of my officers and re-enlisting one of my best NCOs.  The day doesn't get much better than that!

Let me add on about the reenactors and the town of Sainte-Mere-Eglise itself.  I will start out by saying it is basically "party central" for the D-Day celebrations.  The town is well preserved with a great museum, really a group of museums, right at the edge of town.  This is also where many of the re-enactors cluster and celebrate.  The town is very nice with a large central square surrounded by shops and the famous church. 

Ed Note: Is that Red Buttons?
One thing that is really cute is that they still hang a paratrooper dummy from the church roof to celebrate PVT John Steele whose chute snagged on the church roof and left him hanging helplessly.  He played dead for two hours before the Germans took him captive.
The bars all spill out onto the streets so they actually have performers in period costume and singing 1940's songs which is great to listen to.

 As I said, this seems to be the gathering place for most of the re-enactors.  Here's the weird thing - almost none of them are American.  We ran into French, Belgium, Dutch, British  and even Germans dressing up and playing American Paratroopers!  And the vehicles were outstanding.  All looked brand new and who knows where they got some of them.  They must have very understanding wives!

Glenn Goddard is a Brigadier General in the USAR currently commanding the 353rd CA Command supporting both EUCOM and AFRICOM.  He has over 32 years in the Army and lives in the DC Metro area.  He has played wargames since 1972 and his favorite FOW since 2003.

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