By Kevin Hymel High over Normandy, France, eight paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division charged out the rear door of their C-47 Skytrain aircraft. They whooped and shouted as antiaircraft explosions rattled the plane. On the heels of the eighth paratrooper came Technical Sergeant Gerald Griffith. He didn’t jump; strapping himself into the seat by the door, he pulled a T-shaped handle, releasing the cargo strapped under the plane’s fuselage. His task complete, Griffith remained seated while the next eight-man group leaped out the door. From his perch, he had a perfect view of the D-Day airborne assault over Ste. Mère Èglise. Griffith never forgot what he saw: “Some of the paratroopers jumping out of their planes were hit by the prop wash from the plane in front of them, shooting them into the planes behind them, into their propellers.” These were the opening hours of June 6, 1944, and the C-47s were dropping paratroopers inland from Utah Beach, where American soldiers were expected to land around sunrise—one of the first steps toward liberating France and invading Germany. Griffith had a front-line seat to the action as antiaircraft fire lit up the night with deadly tracers, punching jagged holes in the wings of the C-47. “It just looked like somebody cut it with a knife,” he recalled, “or like someone hit it with an axe.” He saw other planes take vicious ground fire. “I saw them start down, but I never saw them hit the ground


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