This post is special. In remembrance of D-Day and the brave men and women who sacrificed so much to preserve the liberties and freedoms that all of us enjoy today. The following letter was shared with me by a good friend who has served our great nation with honor and distinction while making great personal sacrifices in his own life. We owe a great debt of gratitude to the men and women of our armed forces.
Especially on commemorative dates such as D-Day, we recognize the fact that it is the men and women of the U.S. military who provide the protection for our quality of life, our economic opportunities, our personal freedoms, and our liberties. D-Day is representative of how our brave, selfless men and women in the military live up to the truism that in the service of our nation all gave some, and some gave all. Thank you for your brave service. America is eternally grateful.
My friend Rex Saukkonen, was the sole representative of the United States Air Force who jumped in the 70th anniversary commemoration of the D-Day invasion of Normandy. Rex also shared with me the GoPro (GPRO) video that he recorded from his helmet-cam during this historic jump. When Rex showed me the jump video he joked, "This was from back when I was cool and jumping out of airplanes." Anyone who serves our nation for well over 20 years in the military is automatically inducted into the lifetime cool club. For our 20+ year veterans, cool is the rule and bad is to the bone. Rex served for nearly 30 years. 'Nuff said.
Below is the letter that Rex sent to his mom, dad and son earlier today to share his D-Day experience of a few years recent:
It is an auspicious day, today. 6th of June. 75 years ago paratroopers and glider troops had inserted all over the Normandy coast and the heat of the invasion on Omaha, Utah, Juno, Gold, and Sword were at their peak. The fate of the free world and its future were being determined in the sand, hedgerows, forests and grasslands of the Normandy coastline.
5 years ago, I was making my final harness check and jumpmaster parachute inspection to reenact their journey. I didn't have to deal with 100 pounds of equipment, flak, flooded drop zones, or a German welcoming party intent on killing me. However, it was an emotional event for me. Something that I was proud to take part in . I was the only USAF officer to make that jump. I remember loading into the back of the C-130 (a plane designed off of the lessons learned from these very operations) and strapping in with 63 other paratroopers: Army, Navy, French, Dutch, even German. As the aircraft rolled out on the tarmac to make its line-up, I could see the other 10 aircraft behind me out of the ramp. Soon, you could feel the increasing roar of the engines, the vibration and the release of the brakes and the plane accelerating and lifting into the air. We flew as a formation for 30 minutes and then started to receive our calls: 20 min...10 min...stand-up...hook-up...check equipment...doors opening, the increased noise as the wind came through the cabin, 1 min....red light....green light, "GO!, GO!, GO!" and over the next 7 seconds, we emptied the plane of 64 troopers over Iron Mike Drop Zone. I was the last one out of the aircraft on my side.
I handed my static line to the jumpmaster, turned 45 degrees to the door, chin on chest, hands on my reserve and jumped into the prop blast shouting, "1-thousand!, 2-thousand!, 3-thousand!, 4-thousand!", the shock of the chute opening, nylon and straps taught and taking my weight. The silence. No sound but my own breathing. The decreasing sound of the plane as it departed. But this was no time to dwell on this...
I checked my canopy and saw it was a perfect opening. I checked my surroundings, bounced off a fellow paratrooper's chute, steered away and looked for my place to land.
Creek to my right, fence behind me....steer my chute forward, ground rush starting. Feet and knees together, impact with the ground. Parachute roll and I am safely on the ground, my chute settling to the ground in front of me. The soft thump of my other paratrooper companions making their landfall around me (even one unfortunate splash as one found the creek!).
Slowly, I start to hear a roar. It is the crowd. As I gather my chute and pack it away, I can hear them. More than 100,000 spectators from all nations and all ages, cheering. This is the closest I will ever come to knowing what it is like to be a rock star..,..or the liberator of a nation.
As I make my way back to the assembly area to turn in my chute, I can see the extent of the crowd. Masses of people! Handing us beer, wine, preserved meats and bread. I hand them unit patches and small trinkets that I had prepared to use while running this gauntlet of "fans". It is an amazing exchange of goodwill. The memory and thanks is there, and I hope that the guys from the 321 STS that I trained, mentored and grew get to feel that same connection that I experienced on my day.
After the jump, we had a ceremony, then marched in formation to St. Mere Eglise. While I was there, the party started in earnest. Hundreds of paratroopers from all nations together, in the place that will always be famous for its role in the annals of airborne operations.
I was getting a beer and noticed an elderly gentleman in a chair with a 101st Airborne pin sitting by himself. I stopped, and asked if I he wanted a beer (I had two since the line was so long). He gratefully said, "Yes". I took a knee with him (there were no other chairs) and he immediately asked me, "How was the jump?" I replied, "Incredible..", He noted, "It was a lot different when I did it 70 years ago." I realized at this point that I was not only having a beer with a D-Day paratrooper, but also one of the originals from Easy Company of "Band of Brothers" fame. This was further confirmed when the actor that portrayed him in the mini-series returned with a beer. For the next hour, he relayed to me what it was like that initial night and the ensuing days, all the way to Bastogne where he lost his leg. During this time, the crowd around us realized who was in our midst and by the time he had to leave (for his next veterans engagement), nearly half of the people in the square had taken a knee to listen to him. I have a great photo of this.
The most important part of the day was not the glorification of the violent night, but the healing and camaraderie that had happened since that tragic day. This is particularly important as I work for NATO and the nearly two decades I've spent in Europe to help the Alliance and the Defense of Peace that it stands for.
Please find below a few pictures from Rex's account of his participation in the 70th anniversary of the D-Day jump over Normandy:
Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.