NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Seventy-five years ago this month was a turning point in WWII, when nearly 160,000 allied troops landed along the French coastline.
To remember the significance of D-Day, an Arkansas National Guardsman was a part of a reenactment earlier in June where paratroopers jumped behind enemy lines into Normandy.
It’s a look back in time to see 30 C-47 aircrafts crossing the English Channel.
“Many of the aircraft we were jumping from was D-Day veterans themselves, so you’re sitting in the very seats they sat in 75 years ago,” Lt. Col. Matthew Anderson said.
Anderson is a member of the Arkansas National Guard and made the trip overseas for the D-Day anniversary.
He’s a part of the WWII Airborne Demonstration Team that participates in paratrooper reenactments for battles across Europe.
LTC Anderson made the Normandy jump back in 2004 for the 60th anniversary, which is what he had planned this time too.
But with a plane down for unexpected maintenance, four members of his crew couldn’t participate in the full reenactment where they fly across the English Channel and jump into France.
LTC Anderson gave up his seat.
“It was a treasured moment for me and so I knew how important it would be for the other guys,” he said, grateful to have the full experience back in 2004.
He did still jump into Normandy this trip, but during a slightly different mission.
He packed on 100 pounds of gear the originally WWII Paratroopers packed on themselves. The need to share this history hangs just as heavy on those participating.
“Helps bring to life the black and white pictures that they’ve seen in the history books,” LTC Anderson said, recognizing their only mission is to draw attention.
“We’ve got it easy. You know, all we had to do was just jump on a nice pretty day,” he said. A stark difference to the nighttime jumps made behind enemy lines after flying through flak.
Back in Arkansas, LTC Anderson laid out his equipment and a small part of his WWII memorabilia for us.
“This was all the things that they were going to need for the three days behind enemy lines,” he said showing us a full uniform.
He even shared how love was found for one of his relatives in the midst of war.
“He didn’t speak French, she didn’t speak English, but they both spoke ‘Amore’.”
The authentic uniform he uses to jump is filled with likely less love and more skill and a little luck by D-Day survivor John H. Allen.
“He made 4 combat jumps and he survived the war and he wore this uniform and carried this knife,” LTC Anderson said.
He respectfully holds these items close and appreciates the men and women who jumped before him — the stories they told, the lives they sacrificed and the history they made.
“That changed America forever, and it changed the world forever.”
LTC Anderson created a website following the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion, check it out here.
Click here to learn more about the WWII Airborne Demonstration Team out of Frederick, Oklahoma.