For nearly 30 years, D. Zane Schlemmer tried to hold back
the memories of his first combat jump into Normandy 60 years ago.
"I tried not to think about it," said Schlemmer, 82, who
has lived in Hawaii for more than three decades, "but it kept cropping
"In 1974, I made my first trip to Normandy and it was the
best therapy I could have gotten. The people we liberated were so
Schlemmer, accompanied by his son and three grandchildren,
will return to France this week to participate in the 60th anniversary
celebration of D-Day. The invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, turned the
tide of World War II, paving the way for an Allied victory.
Re-enactors on Saturday will recreate the 82nd's jump near
the town of Sainte Mere Eglise, which was the heart of the American
"I would have loved to make that jump," said Schlemmer,
"but the Army said I am too old, but they will allow us to march in with
Schlemmer was a 19-year-old sergeant from North Canton,
Ohio, when he joined the 17,000 paratroopers of the 82nd "All American"
and the 101st "Screaming Eagles" airborne divisions in the drop near
Sainte Mere Eglise and Carentan.
But many of the three C-47 Dakota troop transports were
driven off target by darkness and German anti-aircraft fire. A member of
the 82nd's 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, Schlemmer landed at 1:30
a.m. in an orchard in Picauville — more than a mile away from his drop
"My helmet covered my eyes," Schlemmer said, "when I moved
it above my eyes I could see the tracers coming up at me — red, yellow,
and white. It looked like the Fourth of July."
Besides landing in the midst of a German division,
Schlemmer said the Army didn't prepare the soldiers for the size and
height of the hedgerows. "They were huge barriers."
The town of Sainte Mere Eglise, where the first American
flag was raised in Europe, to this day still honors its liberators,
"They try to keep it in the same way. Every year there are
American flags everywhere. It's a heart-warming experience."
Schlemmer landed in Picauville, west of Sainte Mere Eglise.
The town named a street — Rue Schlemmer — after him.
Schlemmer was wounded on July 3 and taken to England to
recuperate. "Of 2,100 soldiers in my unit who jumped with me," Schlemmer
said, "only 915 returned to our base camp in England."
In September 1944, Schlemmer made his second combat jump
with the 82nd into Holland and fought at Bastogne in the Battle of the
On Saturday, Schlemmer made his annual Memorial Day
pilgrimage to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific to honor his
colleagues buried there, including retired Col. John Battkin, who served
in his regiment in the 82nd Division.
"This was such a memorable and wonderful Memorial Day,"
Schlemmer said, "especially with the dedication this weekend of the World
War II Memorial in Washington, D.C."
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