An eye-opening trip
Shawn Ross found tears in his eyes June 6 as he looked upon Omaha Beach in Normandy, France.
Ross could only imagine the horrors the men of the battle-hardened U.S. First Infantry Division and the green 29th Infantry Division faced 75 years earlier on D-Day.
“Pulling up there it was very heartfelt,” said Ross, a 38-year-old Burleson native. “Even though it was 75 years later it still brought a tear to your eye. Just knowing what they all went through storming Omaha Beach.”
Even though he only made two of five scheduled parachute jumps during ceremonies in honor of the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, Ross said the trip to Normandy was a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
“It was a great trip,” Ross said. “I just wish the weather would have cooperated more and we could have gotten in more jumps.”
Ross traveled to France with the Liberty Jump Team and made a pair of parachute jumps following in the boot straps of paratroopers from the U.S. 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions.
The 70-member jump team formed in 2006 to honor World War II airborne soldiers and veterans of all conflicts by performing military static line parachute operations.
On June 9, Ross parachuted near La Fiere where the 82nd Airborne landed before heading off to capture the important road junction at Sainte-Mere-Eglise.
“A lot of the veterans were there in VIP tents for the jump,” Ross said.
After the jump, Ross visited Sainte-Mere-Eglise. The first thing Ross noticed was that people in Normandy love Americans. In towns all across Normandy, American flags fly side-by-side with French Flags throughout the year.
In Sainte-Mere-Eglise, Ross toured the D-Day sites including the town church where a dummy paratrooper hangs from the spire, commemorating the story of John Steele and keeping the memory of D-Day alive.
Some paratroopers from the 101st landed directly in Sainte-Mere-Eglise. Unfortunately part of the town caught fire that night illuminating the paratroopers and making them easy target.
Steele’s parachute hung on the spire. While the battle raged below, Steele pretended to be dead for more than two hours before he was captured by the Germans.
“Some of the houses still have pock marks from bullets and you can see on the wrought-iron fences where bullets grazed them,” Ross said.
A day later, Ross jumped near Angoville-au-Plain where the 101st Airborne landed on D-Day behind Omaha Beach. The “Screaming Eagles” task was to capture and hold a route along the Paris to Cherbourg road.
Ross visited the 11th century church where two medics from the 101st Airborne, Robert Wright and Kenneth Moore, with Lieutenant Ed Allworth, started an aid station to treat the wounded.
They quickly went into action setting up an aid station inside the 11th century church at Angoville-Au-Plain.
“The pews in the church still have blood stains on them,” Ross said.
Numerous stained glass windows in the church have been redone to commemorate 101st Airborne’s efforts in liberating the town including a window with a paratrooper and another with emblem of the 101st.
Ross also visited Utah Beach and the Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer.
Before leaving for the trip, Ross learned through his great aunt that his mother’s grandfather’s cousin was buried in the cemetery.
“She gave me the plot and row and I found his gravesite.” Ross said.
Ross was disappointed he missed out on one of the traditions of the cemetery.
“I didn’t know it at the time but people at the cemetery rub sand from the beaches into the name on grave marker to indicate a family had visited the grave,” Ross said. “It also makes the name easier to read when people take photos of it.”
Ross is a fan of the HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers” and made it a point to visit Carentan when the 101st fought a pitched battle. Episode Three of the miniseries told the story of the battle at Carentan.
“I was expecting to see a lot of stuff from “Band of Brothers,” Ross said. “I was going there to see the Café Normandy but I couldn’t find it.”
Ross speculated the Café Normandy was just made up for the miniseries.
“It was pretty awe inspiring just knowing that there was a big battle that happened there,” Ross said.
At one point during his time in Normandy, Ross met a 97-year-old U.S. Navy veteran who drove a Higgins boat, also known as a Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel (LCVP), on D-Day.
Ross asked the man what it was like on D-Day and he got a short answer.
“It was an eye-opener,” the veteran told him.
Seventy-five years later, Ross had a similar experience during his time in Normandy.