The morning of June 3rd 2012 in Saint Mere-Eglise, France dawned cloudy, windy, and chilly with a hint of rain in the air. Four of us from the Golden Knights tandem team collectively crossed our fingers for any hint of improvement in the weather as we left the hotel and headed for the airfield. Awaiting us at the airport near Saint Mere-Eglise was the US Ambassador to France, Mr. Charles Rivkin…along with several local news crews, about one hundred Static line jumpers from units stationed in Europe, and several C-130 Hercules aircraft, one of which we would use to take Mr. Rivkin on his first tandem jump.
It was a very important day. It was the day France had chosen to commemorate the Allied invasion of the northern peninsula of France, the spearhead of the movement to take back the continent of Europe from the Germans. The town of Ste Mere-Eglise was the first town liberated by the Allied forces on 6 June 1944. A few miles outside of town, there is a quaint bridge over a pleasant stream with flowers and fields all around it. This bridge, the La Fiere bridge, was one of two primary objectives on D-Day. The battle for the la Fiere bridge was one of the fiercest of the day…if the Allies failed to hold that bridge, every life lost at the beaches that morning would have been in vain, as German tanks and reinforcements would have flowed freely to the coast to aid the battlements at the beaches. To stand there, on that bridge, and to hear the locals (many of whom were children during the invasion, and whose parents aided in the French resistance in the days leading up to the invasion) tell of their experiences on that day was emotional.
The drop zone for the tandem jump that day was in a farmer’s field about 50 meters from the la Fiere bridge, across the road from the WWII memorial. Our finger-crossing worked, and the clouds broke just long enough for us to get the wind-dummy and the tandem out. Just after SFC Noah Watts and Mr. Rivkin touched down for a tip-toe landing, hordes of national and international press rushed onto the drop zone, snapping thousands of photos and shouting questions to the ambassador about his commemorative jump. The ambassador went straight from the drop zone to the memorial ceremony, where thousands of local French citizens and WWII veterans, the Secretary of the Army John McHugh, the mayor of Ste Mere-Eglise, and family members of Americans who fought and died on that day in 1944 were gathered. The Hon. John McHugh said some words, then the Ambassador gave a rousing speech in French and was cheered by the audience.
After the jump, we packed up and traveled to Paris the following day, and visited the embassy at the personal invitation of the Ambassador himself. We spent an hour with the ambassador in his office, as he regaled us with tales of his childhood as the son of the US Ambassador to Dakar, and chatted about the jump, the Golden Knights mission, the importance of our diplomatic relations with France (our oldest ally), and said several times how pleased he was that he said yes to the invitation to jump with the Golden Knights!
It was an honor for each of us to have been afforded the opportunity to participate in such an important and solemn occasion. Each of us now have a piece of living history in our minds. Of the thousands of parachute jumps we have completed during our time on the Golden Knights, this day certainly takes the cake as one for the log-books! The jump was a huge success and attracted so much attention from the press in France and across Europe that there is already talk of inviting the team back next year to make the tandem jump into the D-Day ceremony a tradition.