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Normandy's paratrooper was a local hero

D-Day, June 6, 1944

As anxious editors waited in newsrooms throughout the country for updated bulletins on the Normandy invasion, a picture slowly materialized over the photo wire.

It was a photograph of an unidentified young paratrooper standing in the doorway of a transport plane anticipating the green light to jump. Intense and appearing slightly apprehensive, he gripped the strap of his helmet fastened under his chin. Moments later, he and a plane load of others leaped into thin air in a training jump at Fort Benning, Ga. That moment came to symbolize the real thing over Normandy, France, shortly after the invasion got under way.

No photographers were on the plane over Normandy as this unidentified paratrooper jumped for real into the night sky with a hail of machine gun fire ripping into the plane.

The training picture soon flashed across the country on front pages of newspapers to depict the jump by paratroopers.

The same picture was published again 50 years later in the book 7 Remember Normandy" by the historian of the Memorial Museum in Caen, France. The photo had also served for years as the central focus of a 10-foot high mural of the D-Day diorama on display at the American Airpower Heritage Museum in Midland, Texas.

Who was this young paratrooper? Nobody at the museum in Texas seemed to know, not even the museum director. The photo had come from the national archives.

The picture appeared again in the November 1996 issue of the Air Force Magazine in an article about the Confederate Air Force. William L. Terry, a Little Rock lawyer and wartime crewmember on a B-17 bomber, took one look at the photograph and instantly recognized his longtime friend, Samuel C. Rowland II, a Little Rock insur-

ance executive and business leader who died in 1995.

Rowland's widow, Betty Rowland Wittenberg, has provided a copy of the letter Terry dashed off to the magazine identifying Rowland as the unknown paratrooper a member of the 508th Infantry Parachute Regiment who dropped into Normandy behind Utah Beach. Rowland, as Terry noted, had served in the Normandy campaign and had fought in the Battle of the Bulge.

Terry's letter mentions a visit he and his wife took with the Rowlands to Normandy in 1993. One result of their visit was publication of the same photograph in a French publication on the 50th anniversary of D-Day.

"I felt that the American Air Power Heritage Museum would be interested in the identification of the photo in its display," he wrote, "and accordingly am furnishing the museum a copy of this letter."

, (The local chapter of the Air Force Association at Little Rock Air Force Base is named for Terry's deceased brother, Col. David D. Terry Jr., who commanded the 33rd Fighter Group of the 10th Air Force during the war in Burma-Assam.)

An article written by Mrs. Wittenberg quoted in the museum's newsletter mentions that Rowland's transport plane was off course at the time of the drop, and the paratroopers landed in six feet of water in a field the Germans had flooded. Rowland's gear was entangled with his parachute lines, but he managed to free himself and join several other members of his unit.

Together, she wrote, they sat on a hill overlooking Utah Beach and watched the landings. Rowland's division spent 38 days in the Normandy area chasing after fleeing enemy soldiers."

On her visit to Normandy  with her husband and the Terrys, as Mrs. Wittenberg recalls, they retraced Rowland's war steps, guided by Martine Gipari, a young woman whose

father had served with the Free French fighters. A moving experience for all, she said, noting that Terry had flown on bombing raids over Normandy in preparation for the invasion.

The museum at Caen asked Roland for pictures and information about his pre-invasion training. He included a print of his famous picture. The pictures and his story fill a full page in a book authored by the museum director.

When Terry told Mrs. Wittenberg about the mural at the museum in Midland, she contacted its director, Tami O'Bannon, and sent a copy of a letter her late husband had written to his stepfather after his 38-day tour at Normandy. The museum placed the letter beside the famous photo under a belated identification of the 21-year-old paratrooper where he lived his last 50 years in Little Rock. Rowland's name is listed on the museum's Wall of Honor. And his famous picture graces a brochure for visitors.

Bob Sallee's Backward Glances appears Tuesdays and Thursdays in Style. He has been a reporter, writer and editor for the Arkansas Democrat and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette since 1960.

[Source: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, March 26, 1998]

[Article courtesy of the LeFebvre Collection]

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