Falling in the shadows of heroes

Parachutists from metro Detroit, around the world prepare to land on historic landing sites for 75th anniversary of D-Day

By: Brian Louwers | C&G Newspapers | Published May 24, 2019

 For more information about Daks Over Normandy events in England or Normandy June 2-9 or to support their efforts, including the cross-channel commemorative jump on June 5, visit https://www.daksovernormandy.com/donate/

For more information about Daks Over Normandy events in England or Normandy June 2-9 or to support their efforts, including the cross-channel commemorative jump on June 5, visit https://www.daksovernormandy.com/donate/

Photo provided by Daks Over Normandy

 Mark Bando, 69, the unofficial historian of the 101st Airborne Division and a resident of Oakland County, is scheduled to make a jump organized by the WWII Airborne Demonstration Team on June 7, landing on what was “drop zone C” for the 101st on D-Day, near Sainte-Marie-Du-Mont.

Mark Bando, 69, the unofficial historian of the 101st Airborne Division and a resident of Oakland County, is scheduled to make a jump organized by the WWII Airborne Demonstration Team on June 7, landing on what was “drop zone C” for the 101st on D-Day, near Sainte-Marie-Du-Mont.

Photo provided by Mark Bando

 Paul Ott, 25, of Chesterfield Township, will be wearing a helmet liner and jacket signed by two dozen airborne infantry veterans when he jumps in Europe to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Normandy invasion.

Paul Ott, 25, of Chesterfield Township, will be wearing a helmet liner and jacket signed by two dozen airborne infantry veterans when he jumps in Europe to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Normandy invasion.

Photo provided by Paul Ott

 John Lind, 55, of Shelby Township, the director of the Detroit Arsenal of Democracy Museum, will be the primary jumpmaster on one of the planes for Daks Over Normandy’s cross-channel commemorative jump.

John Lind, 55, of Shelby Township, the director of the Detroit Arsenal of Democracy Museum, will be the primary jumpmaster on one of the planes for Daks Over Normandy’s cross-channel commemorative jump.

Photo provided by John Lind

METRO DETROIT — Peter Braun made his first parachute landing on his 17th birthday. He’s 54 now and has logged 6,500 jumps.

None will be more meaningful than those he’s scheduled to make this June.

Braun — a resident of Haren, near Groningen, in the Netherlands — is the initiator and one of three directors of the Daks Over Normandy nonprofit. He’ll join hundreds of parachutists from around the world, including several from metro Detroit, taking part in a series of historic airborne landings in England and France, organized to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion of Normandy during World War II.

Daks Over Normandy has organized two commemorative jumps: the first in Duxford, England, on June 4, followed by a special cross-channel jump onto a historic drop zone in Normandy on June 5. They’ll have more than 30 vintage aircraft, including up to 20 Douglas DC-3/C-47 Dakota —  hence the name “Daks” — and transports equipped to drop 220 parachutists under military round canopies, wearing Allied World War II uniforms.

Braun said it’s “an enormous undertaking” with a $1.5 million budget, managed by a team of 30 people. It involves aircraft from all over the world, including the “D-Day Squadron” of more than a dozen planes heading across the Atlantic Ocean together from the East Coast of the United States.

“What we’re doing this for is, of course, the veterans,” Braun said. “They gave their lives and so much more to give us back our freedom in 1944. I think we owe them our eternal gratitude.”

The Normandy invasion was launched on June 6, 1944. The vanguard was a force of 18,000 American, British and Canadian troops from three airborne divisions — the U.S. 101st and 82nd, and the British 6th Airborne — dropped into occupied France shortly after midnight. Tens of thousands more troops landed by glider and swarmed across five invasion beaches in the hours that followed. By the end of the day, more than 156,000 Allied troops had arrived in France.

Mark Bando, an author and a retired Detroit police officer now living in Oakland County, is the unofficial historian of the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division. He’s interviewed more than 1,000 veterans of the 101st who served during World War II. Fewer than 5% of them are still alive. He said at least four D-Day jump veterans, all in their 90s, plan to make the journey to Normandy for the 75th anniversary commemoration.

Bando, 69, will be there too. He’s scheduled to make a jump organized by the WWII Airborne Demonstration Team on June 7, landing on what was “drop zone C” for the 101st on D-Day, near Sainte-Marie-Du-Mont.  

He said he never became interested in parachuting until he learned he could do it from a historic C-47 transport. He’s now made 22 jumps, all but two with the WWII ADT, using the legendary aircraft that carried Allied paratroopers across the English Channel on D-Day.

“They went in, a lot of them went in, not expecting to survive themselves,” Bando said. “It was like a suicide mission. It’s hard to prove how much of an effect it had on the success of the invasion. There’s no doubt they (the paratroopers) took a lot of the enemy out in proportion to their numbers.”

Shelby Township resident John Lind, the director of the Detroit Arsenal of Democracy Museum and a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force, said he jumped at the chance to take part in several commemorative events marking important World War II milestone anniversaries this summer, including D-Day’s 75th.

“It’s a fulfillment of a lifelong dream for me, to be able to participate in such a coveted celebration. Earning your wings is one thing, but making the historical jumps is definitely a treat,”said Lind, 55. “To land on the drop zones that the Greatest Generation landed on, it’s second to none.

“We’re in their equipment. We’re in the airplanes they jumped out of. We are repeating, basically, the footsteps of what they did. It is a tremendous honor, just to even be asked to take part in such an event. It’s one of the greatest honors in my life, next to my son being born, other than becoming a United States Marine.”

Lind has 165 jumps and has served as a certified jumpmaster for 61 missions with groups including the WWII ADT, the Round Canopy Parachute Team and the Liberty Jump Team. He’ll be the primary jumpmaster on one of the planes for Daks Over Normandy’s cross-channel jump.

Paul Ott, 25, of Chesterfield Township, an assistant curator for vehicles at the Detroit Arsenal of Democracy Museum and a World War II reenactor, has completed 50 round canopy jumps. He was inspired by the veterans he’s met, including several from the 101st and 82nd airborne divisions.

“I’ve wanted to go to Normandy for 10 years. When this opportunity came up, it’s pretty much a dream come true,” Ott said. “I never thought I’d have a chance to make a jump over there.”

Ott said he’ll be joined by his mom, sister, aunt and uncle in Europe for the events. He’ll be wearing a helmet liner and jacket signed by two dozen airborne infantry veterans.

“A lot of these guys are our friends,” Ott said. “We’re doing it for all the friends we’ve lost over the years.”

For more information about the nonprofit WWII Airborne Demonstration Team, visit wwi iadt.org. For more information about Daks Over Normandy events in England or France June 2-9 or to support their efforts, including the cross-channel commemorative jump on June 5, visit www.daksovernormandy.com/donate.