French Approval Still Needed For D-Day Vets to Parachute
PARIS (AP) _ The Pentagon has given them the green light, but 33 veteran paratroopers still need French permission to relive their legendary jump over Normandy.
The World War II vets, now in their late to mid 80s, have asked to parachute June 5 during ceremonies commemorating the 50th anniversary of D- Day.
After initial worries about liability, the Pentagon said April 22 that it would support the U.S. veterans on condition of controlling the drop zone and providing assistance.
But Gilles Kilian, governor of the Lower Normandy region where the D-Day celebrations will be held, said Friday that he still hasn’t given his own go- ahead.
″I’ve received the request for authorization, which is being studied, but I can’t say what kind of answer it will get,″ Kilian told Radio-France Cherbourg.
″Our worry is to try to be as understanding as possible, but obviously, this thing can’t be done at the same time as the official drop of 500 paratroops,″ Kilian said.
He was referring to a scheduled drop of active-duty U.S. and French paratroopers before an expected crowd of 20,000 in a field near Sainte-Mere- Eglise, the first village liberated on D-Day.
Emile-Rene Gueguen, a former French soldier living in California who has helped the veterans organize the jump, said that the ex-GIs would go ahead ″even if there’s antiaircraft fire.″
Local officials have expressed worry that the death or injury of any elderly veterans would mar two days of ceremonies that will attract tens of thousands of D-Day veterans and 15 heads of state or government.
But refusing the veterans a last moment of glory would provoke a furor similar to the government’s clumsy bid to requisition hotel rooms booked by British and Canadian vets and give them to foreign VIPs. Embarrassed French officials finally guaranteed the veterans their rooms.
U.S. Maj. Mike Humm of the Pentagon’s World War II Commemorative office in Washington said that getting a French green-light is up to the veterans. Official U.S. participation is limited to organization and technical support.
Under the current plans, which Humm says the Pentagon approves of, the veterans would jump a short time after the younger soldiers.
Richard Mandich, president of the Return to Normandy Association and a corporal during the war, expressed confidence in a telephone interview from San Diego, Calif., that any hitches will be ironed out.
The association has already won the agreement of an official French organization to provide them with two C-47 aircraft like the kind they used 50 years ago.