Special Operations Forces commemorate liberation of France

  • Published
  • By Maj. Christina R. Hoggatt
  • 352nd Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
In the first events commemorating the 71st anniversary of the liberation of France, Special Operations Command Europe operators performed military free falls into U.N. designated world heritage site in Mont Saint-Michel, and participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at the World War II Pontorson Airfield Memorial May 30-31.

Twenty-six paratroopers from SOCEUR -- 13 Airmen from the 321st Special Tactics Squadron at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England; Army 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne); Naval Special Warfare Unit Two; and Special Operations Command Africa, Stuttgart, Germany -- performed the military free falls from a 67th Special Operations Squadron MC-130J Commando II also from RAF Mildenhall.

“I have been jumping for more than 18 years – this was by far the most memorable jump ever,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Jack Kredo, the SOCEUR commandant and jump mission commander. “This is such a unique and special venue and true honor to jump for such a great cause. This French association honors and remembers liberty, keeping alive and celebrating the assistance Americans provided in World War II. It is a genuine privilege to commemorate the mission that led to the liberation of France from Nazi control.”

The jumps at Mont Saint-Michel began in 2009 through the association Les Amis du Souvenir et de la Liberté (Friends for Remembrance and Liberty). Though no parpatroopers jumped into this exact area during World War II, St. Michael is the patron saint of Paratroopers, thereby creating the association between the two and the coordination for the commemoration with SOCEUR.

“Commemorating the liberation of France by the Allies is very important for the French,” said Noel Sarrazin, the Les Amis du Souvenir et de la Liberté executive secretary. “Organizing the jumps near the Mont Saint-Michel is a celebration and good occasion to connect our two countries.”

Each SOCEUR paratrooper that participated spoke to the beauty and significance of such an opportunity. For one Airman in particular, jumping into one of Normandy’s most historic locations held a deep, personal significance because his grandfather is a D-Day veteran. For the airman, this was his opportunity to remember and honor his family by being part of such remarkable history.

"I am fortunate parachuting is part of my job and it's something I love to do,” said a 321st STS air commando. “Few things will ever compare to the opportunity we had today to jump into France over Mont Saint-Michel, to honor the paratroopers who jumped into France during World War II, the ground shaking reception we received from the locals, and the heartfelt appreciation shared by everyone in attendance. I have never experienced anything like this and am so grateful to be a part of such an honorable event."

The following day the paratroopers took part in a wreath-laying ceremony at the World War II Pontorson Airfield Memorial, a parade with local grade-school students, and a mayoral reception at Pontorson City Hall. This was the first time since the liberation in 1945 that American troops were back in Pontorson for an official event.

During the ceremony, Mayor of Pontorson André Denot thanked the American service members for their participation and spoke about the importance of continuing in strong allegiance and partnership, while always remembering the importance of freedom. During the reception, Denot presented Kredo a memento of appreciation.

“It is an extreme honor to be here today, remembering the generations that came before us,” Kredo said upon acceptance. “This is very important for the current generation in for both our countries. It’s always refreshing to see our future generations that will continue moving liberty forward.”

These events were precursor to the D-Day commemorative events. The capstone D-Day commemoration will be June 7, with joint partner military free falls and static line jumps at the beaches near Sainte-Mère-Église, Normandy, France.