High above the coast of France, Shane Orser floated into history.
A Redmond smokejumper, Orser was part of a 75th anniversary commemoration of the D-Day invasion Wednesday, jumping from a World War II-era plane about 1,200 feet above Normandy.
Orser, 41, and about 200 other participants followed the footsteps of the 24,000 Allied paratroopers who landed on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Rather than landing in a war zone, the jumpers were greeted by a sea of friendly spectators.
“The locals made us feel like we were liberating the place — they were so thankful and took pictures of us and treated us like royalty,” Orser said after the jump.
But on a day that felt like a flashback, with spectators dressed in 1940s clothing and listening to music of that era, Orser helped create a Central Oregon connection to the famous invasion. Orser wore a long-sleeved Army shirt with patches that belonged to Guy “Whitey” Weaver Jr., an Army veteran who survived storming the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.
Weaver’s family, which lives in Bend, heard about Orser’s plan to take part in the jump and thought sharing Weaver’s uniform would be the perfect fit. Most of the other jumpers also wore or carried World War II memorabilia that linked them to a veteran.
Orser was honored. He proudly wore Weaver’s olive drab shirt and military patches under his replica World War II Allied paratrooper uniform.
“He stormed the beaches in Normandy. He was in Gen. Patton’s army,” Orser said. “It’s incredible to even know somebody that has been through all that.”
Wednesday began amid a hectic atmosphere with stormy weather delaying flight plans and planes breaking down before takeoff.
Orser boarded a Douglas DC-3 plane, called the Miss Montana, and flew from the Imperial War Museum in Duxford, England, on the same historic flight path over the English Channel toward Normandy. More than 20 other Douglas DC-3 and C-47 Dakota planes traveled the same route for the event, called Daks Over Normandy. The jumpers would fill the sky with round parachutes — modern versions of the same ones used during World War II.
“The plane ride was surreal with all the other planes in the air in front and behind us,” Orser said.
Daks Over Normandy honored D-Day, a turning point in World War II. About 156,000 Allied troops arrived on the coastline that day in 1944 to fight Nazi soldiers on the beaches of Normandy.
Weaver was among them.
Weaver grew up in Odell Lake near Willamette Pass and served in the Army from April 1943 to December 1945 at the apex of World War II. He served as a marksman and radar operator and fought in major campaigns such as the Battle of the Bulge and Battle of Ardennes in addition to D-Day.
Weaver went on to a career in construction and raised a family in Southern California. He died in 2001.
His wife, Phyllis Weaver, eventually moved to Bend to be closer to her daughter, Becky Bremer, and Becky’s husband, Jack Bremer.
Phyllis Weaver died on May 14, and since then her daughter and son-in-law have been busy sifting through family heirlooms, including the Army uniforms and patches from Becky’s father.
Last week, Jack and Becky Bremer brought several of the Army items to Orser to let him choose what to bring on the trip to Normandy.
“He was so honored to be able to do this and make the connection,” Jack Bremer said. “He put the shirt on, and you could see it was the perfect size for him.”
The Bremers had one more item for Orser to bring on his trip. They handed him the last of Weaver’s ashes that were displayed at their Bend home. They had kept a small portion after leaving his remains at the Willamette National Cemetery outside Portland.
Orser agreed to take the ashes. He plans to bring them to the Normandy beach Thursday, the anniversary of D-Day and 75 years after Weaver survived the battle.
A historic trip for Orser had turned into a closure for Weaver and his family.
“It really means a lot to them and for me to be able to pour the rest of his ashes on the battlefield. It’s just incredible,” Orser said. “What an honor.”
Jack and Becky Bremer visited Normandy and the D-Day beaches during their honeymoon trip to Europe in 1985. They had planned to take Becky’s father back there, but those plans never came to fruition, Jack Bremer said.
“The ashes that Shane is carrying is the tribute to Whitey,” he said, “and his symbolic return to Normandy.”
— Reporter: 541-617-7820, email@example.com