Local man takes part in historic D-Day celebration

From 1,500 feet in the air, the fields and small hamlets of Normandy, France, spread out in the distance.

Paratroopers descended onto this landscape on June 6, 1944, as part of the D-Day invasion of World War II. They strapped on their "steel pot" helmets, zipped up their jumpsuits and leapt from the C-47 Dakota into enemy territory below. 

Their efforts provided vital support for the forces storming the beaches of Normandy on that day. This week, a group of skilled parachutists, including Amity resident Guy Moody, will pay tribute to their bravery by recreating those jumps over France.

"It’s a real thrill. To actually see the places where the jumps and battles take place is really exciting," Moody said. "All of the members of the team are motivated by history. Most of us are veterans, and we want to honor the World War II veterans and the sacrifices they made."

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To recognize the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, Moody and the rest of the Liberty Jump Team will be taking part in commemorative jumps around Normandy. The Liberty Jump team is a nonprofit made up of active duty and veteran military members who do historic jumps to honor the country’s military heritage and the U.S. Army’s early airborne operations.

The organization was founded in 2006 to provide a unique tribute to America’s veterans.

"The mission of the Liberty Jump Team is to honor the veterans and preserve the airborne history and traditions, educating people to keep the legacy of the Greatest Generation alive," said Lt. Col. David Accetta, spokesman for the jump team.

Members come from all over the country, and range in age from their 20s to mid-70s. Some are active duty military, others in the reserve or National Guard. Many are veterans, who served in places such as Vietnam, Somalia, Haiti, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Representatives from Canada and other countries around the world also take part.

Moody has been a member of the team for the past 10 years. He learned about the group through his interest in World War II reenacting. As a member of the 1st Special Forces Group of the U.S. Army, he served from 1969 to 1972 in Okinawa, with missions in Japan and Korea during his stint.

"I wanted a hobby, something to do. I had jumped in the Army, and after I got out in ’72, it had been a while," he said. "A friend of mine had joined the team about a year earlier. He talked me into joining."

In the spring of 2009, Moody traveled to Oklahoma, where the Liberty Jump Team had their base of operations at the time. He went through a jumping refresher course, going over all of the techniques and safety requirements of parachuting. He also completed three jumps out of a Cessna 180.

After completing the refresher, he was part of the team.

Every year, the team gathers at the jump team’s current headquarters in Texas for jump school. They brush up on individual airborne skills to ensure they’re making parachute jumps and landings safely. They take part in actual jumps to put their skills to practice.

And the gatherings also help build a bond among the team, Moody said.

"We’re like family. That’s one of the fun parts about getting together: the camaraderie and esprit de corps," he said.

As an organization revolving around parachuting, the Liberty Jump Team has rigorous safety protocols in place. A senior rigger and senior jump master go through a detailed inspection to ensure every member’s equipment is properly packed and in good condition. Team members are inspected multiple times before they go out the door to make sure everything is correctly fastened and ready to jump.

The organization worked diligently with the Federal Aviation Administration and its national air show coordinator to create guidelines for civilian demonstrations and static-line jump operations. The team has continued to work with the FAA to improve safety standards.

One of the Liberty Jump Team’s primary activities is traveling to the original drop zones where U.S. troops jumped during World War II. They always go back to Normandy each year for the D-Day anniversary, but have also done jumps in the Netherlands and Belgium.

"I consider it a privilege to be able to come here and be able to honor these veterans this way. My first jump in Normandy was 15 years ago for the 60th anniversary and it was, and continues to be, an amazing experience," Accetta said. "The French people are still grateful and recognize the sacrifices the Allied soldiers made for their freedom, and we want to honor those who lost their lives and keep their memories alive."

Moody actually traveled with the team to Normandy in 2008, but was unable to jump because he had not completed the refresher course. Still, being on the ground with the drop zone crew at such a solemn event was breathtaking.

"It’s really exciting to be part of it. People come from all over Europe, and of course the U.S. They’re expecting more than 1 million people this year," he said. "They really take it seriously over there, and the people of Normandy are just really friendly people."

They take part in air shows such as California International Airshow and Wings Over Dallas WWII Air Show. In recent years, requests for the team to be part of events have steadily increased.

"It’s a great organization to be part of," Moody said.

The Liberty Jump Team left for France over the weekend, and will take part in five different jumps commemorating D-Day. They will be jumping out of a restored World War II C-47 Dakota over sites such as Amfreville, St. Germain de Vareville and La Fiere — all drop zones that members of the Army’s airborne forces jumped into in 1944.

Their plane is a restored aircraft based in Britain that was actually used in airborne missions in Italy, France and the Rhine campaign during World War II.

"It actually has bullet holes from the German Messerschmitt (a fighter plane) still in. They patched them over, but you can see them from the inside," Moody said. "It’s a piece of history."