A Redmond smokejumper is embarking on a historic trip next month to participate in a commemorative D-Day invasion jump in Normandy, France.
Shane Orser, 41, will join more than 200 other participants who plan to board several Douglas DC-3 airplanes in the United Kingdom, fly across the English Channel and parachute into the same location in Normandy where about 24,000 airborne Allied troops landed on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
The jump on June 5, called Daks Over Normandy, will honor the 75th anniversary of D-Day, a turning point in World War II. About 156,000 Allied troops landed along a coastline to fight Nazi soldiers on the beaches of Normandy.
Orser and the other jumpers will wear replica World War II Allied uniforms and use round Army parachutes to honor the airborne Allied soldiers who landed in Normandy 75 years ago.
“It’s going to be very surreal,” Orser said. “I’ll probably be thinking a lot about what they were thinking about. I’ll be able to relive the footsteps of that day.”
Orser will be accompanied by smokejumpers from Montana and Idaho. The other participants are mostly former and active Army airborne troops.
Orser, who has worked as a smokejumper in Redmond since 2009, said smokejumpers and Army soldiers are some of the only people trained to use round parachutes — the same ones being used at the commemorative jump — in addition to the wing versions commonly used today.
The parachutes at the event will be Army green and look vintage, but they were made within the last few years and not in 1944, Orser said. They are similar to the ones Orser uses as a smokejumper, and they have the ability to steer, unlike the ones used in World War II.
“It’s nice we will be able to steer,” he said. “And it will be nice to jump with other smokejumpers. We do it all the time.”
But this jump will be different.
Orser is used to jumping out of airplanes, two people at a time. It will be an adjustment jumping out of airplanes with about 200 others.
“The sky is going to be full of people,” he said. “It’s going to be a lot of trying not to run into each other. There is going to be a sense of chaos.”
The plane Orser is scheduled to fly in at the event has special meaning to him and the fellow smokejumpers. It’s a Douglas DC-3 smokejumper plane, called the Miss Montana, that was used in the tragic 1949 Mann Gulch Fire in Montana’s Helena National Forest that killed a dozen smokejumpers.
The plane has been kept in Missoula at the Museum of Mountain Flying, where staff restored it and prepared it for flight in the commemorative D-Day event.
“That is the same exact airplane,” Orser said. “I really want to be on that plane.”
A huge turnout of spectators is expected the day of the commemorative Normandy jump, including World War II veterans who were a part of the Allied airborne attack.
“I truly can’t wait to meet people who were there,” Orser said. “When I land on the ground I’ll make sure to spend time to get to know the people who were there and let them know they are not forgotten.”
Now that Orser’s travel plans are set and he has his vintage uniform and parachute ready for the jump, he is getting eager for the experience.
“It means a lot to be a part of it,” he said. “It’s becoming very real, and I’m beyond excited.”
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