By Kenneth Dean
(TYLER MORNING TELEGRAPH) - Seven decades have passed, but the small town of Sainte-Mere-Eglise and other areas of Normandy today are inundated with soldiers from all around the world to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day.
U.S. Army Lt. Col Mike Dean, commander, Special Troops Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, said the area was teeming with soldiers from various nations to remember the famous Normandy invasion on June 6, 1944.
Dean and about 650 paratroopers from the U.S. Army and other militaries from around the globe are not only in the area to remember but are slated to make a historic jump on Sainte-Mere-Eglise, the first French town liberated during the D-Day invasion.
"For my division, this is especially special, because we are the same regiment and division that dropped on D-Day. We get to drop into the same drop zone as they did." he said.
Sainte-Mere-Eglise was important in the D-Day invasion because it was in a major thoroughfare, one the Germans would have most likely used on any significant counterattack on the troops landing on Utah and Omaha beaches.
Early on June 6, 1944, mixed units of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions occupied the town, giving it the claim to be one of the first towns liberated in the invasion.
However, the price was high, as D-Day casualties for the airborne divisions were 1,259 for the 82nd Airborne and 1,240 for the 101st Airborne Division, according to numbers calculated by the War Department in 1944.
The 82nd suffered 156 killed, 347 wounded and 756 missing. For the 101st, the total was 182 killed, 557 wounded and 501 missing.
Dean, 43, said the German army also is involved, and he actually will jump from a German-manned aircraft and take his jump orders from a German jumpmaster.
Dean said he has met several families of men he calls the heroes of D-Day and is proud to serve in the same division.
There are several WWII D-Day veterans attending ceremonies in Normandy, including famous veteran Jim "Pee Wee" Martin, 93, who is hoping to jump with his old regiment the 506th. His unit was depicted in the HBO miniseries "Band of Brothers."
According to an article on the U.S. Army's website, Martin was a 23-year-old private first class when he parachuted into France as part of the invasion.
"I truly would want to do that one, because there's no other 93-year-old guy in the unit who can do it but me," he said.
Lt. Col. Steven Lamb, of U.S. Army Europe Public Affairs, said the events taking place have helped to develop stronger ties with the other nations involved, including the Germans.
"This is very important to us. As our theme, ‘Honoring the past, securing the future,' indicates we are remembering the collective sacrifice of so many nations from years ago. Since that time, we have healed and developed new relationships with our European partners, which includes the Germans. Our efforts here are multinational and have grown in scope over the years to include many of those partners. This year we will jump with French, Dutch and German paratroopers," he said.
Lamb said in addition to the jump, the U.S. military is supporting more than 30 French-led ceremonies in the area.
Dean said it was great to meet so many people from various nations who are gathering to remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice and all of those who fought for freedom.
He said the atmosphere around the events is "outstanding" as people are dressed in World War II-era clothing and all the stops are being pulled for the occasion.
"After the jump, some of us will be presented German jump wings, and German troops that jump from American aircraft will be presented American jump wings. This is really exciting, and I am happy to be a part of this historic event," he said.
Lt. Col Mike Dean is the brother of Tyler Morning Telegraph staff writer Kenneth Dean. He attended schools in the Tyler area including Hubbard Middle School and Robert E. Lee High School.