John Wilson's high-flying salute to paratroopers - New York News

John Wilson's high-flying salute to paratroopers

Posted: Updated:

Seventy years ago, more than 13,000 paratroopers landed on Normandy on what would be one of the largest amphibious military assaults in history.

All week long, I've been sharing stories of veterans who survived that massacre.


It's a day in history that's close to my own heart. My uncle fell under machine gun fire from a French woman on Omaha Beach during the war. He survived, but didn't talk about it much until 20 years ago, when I got a chance to travel to Normandy with a group of WWII vets.

They had an opportunity to relive their paratrooping experience on the 50th anniversary of D-Day.

So, I'm not 75 years old just yet, but I, too, was curious to experience what these men went through on that day. After all, if President George Bush, Sr. could do it, so can I!

My family thought I was a little crazy, but it turned out to be one of the most memorable experiences of my life.


*****




First, I had to sort of sign my life away. Then, I asked all the important questions, like, "Is it gonna mess my hair up?"

"Probably!" responded my instructor.

After watching a video, getting a few safety lessons, and putting on my big yellow jumpsuit (at least it's not an orange one), I was ready to go.

"At 5,500 ft. we're gonna pull the parachute," said my instructor, "You wanna pull?"

"Yeah, OK!" I responded with enthusiasm.

The instructor gave me one last lesson, "Take those arms out, 90 degrees at the elbow, 90 degrees at the shoulder, big smile, head up, keep that arch. Let's go skydive!



"
I can't imagine actually doing this at night, on D-Day, under gunfire. You know, that's a different breed of person. People who do this for a living are extraordinary people."




A few waves, a thumbs up, and big smiles for the camera as we approached the plane.

"I cannot imagine what this is gonna be like at 120 miles per hour," I thought to myself.

On the plane, the cameraman asked me "What are the three things you're supposed to remember?"

With great zeal, I responded, "I'm gonna arch, I'm gonna relax, and I'm gonna have fun!"

Before you know it, I was jumping out of the plane. It was a tandem jump, so I had faith that I was in good hands. However, for a split second, the thought did occur to me, "What if they forget about the parachute?"

*****



John Wilson reports from Normandy/1994
John Wilson reports from Normandy, in front of a German "pillbox." They were fortresses with concrete six to eight feet deep, all the way around.


It seems silly to think anything would go wrong, but during my trip back to Normandy 20 years ago, a man from Inverness named Earl Draper had his parachute get tangled up during his jump. He then landed with his backup parachute, but suffered a back injury.

As you can imagine, that experience was in the back of my mind. Fortunately, my experience was smooth sailing, from the jump to the landing.

"I'm pretty steady for a guy who just went a 120 miles per hour," I told the crew after I took my goggles off.

That being said, I can't imagine actually doing this at night, on D-Day, under gunfire. You know, that's a different breed of person. People who do this for a living are extraordinary people.

This experience is one of those moments that's gonna be around for a long time in my life.

*****

We were honored to talk to survivors of D-Day from here in the Tampa Bay area, and to share their stories this week:


  • Local NewsLocal NewsMore>>

  • Summit at City Hall on police-community relations

    Summit at City Hall on police-community relations

    Thursday, July 31 2014 11:06 AM EDT2014-07-31 15:06:56 GMT
    Ways to improve the relationship between the NYPD and communities in New York City is at the center of a summit being held on Thursday. Mayor Bill de Blasio, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, Rev. Al Sharpton, city officials and community leaders are attending the round table. Accusations of police brutality and the death of a man under arrest for selling un-taxed cigarettes on Staten Island prompted the discussion.
    Ways to improve the relationship between the NYPD and communities in New York City is at the center of a summit being held on Thursday. Mayor Bill de Blasio, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, Rev. Al Sharpton, city officials and community leaders are attending the round table. Accusations of police brutality and the death of a man under arrest for selling un-taxed cigarettes on Staten Island prompted the discussion.
  • Falling debris from Midtown building

    Falling debris from Midtown building

    Thursday, July 31 2014 10:19 AM EDT2014-07-31 14:19:35 GMT

    Emergency personnel are responding to falling debris from a high-rise building in Midtown Manhattan. West 57th St. between 5th and 6th Avenues is closed. SkyFoxHD was overhead where pieces of glass could be seen on the ground and a window shattered. Two people were hit by the falling glass at about 8:45 a.m. and were taken to Roosevelt Hospital with minor injuries, according to police.

    Emergency personnel are responding to falling debris from a high-rise building in Midtown Manhattan. West 57th St. between 5th and 6th Avenues is closed. SkyFoxHD was overhead where pieces of glass could be seen on the ground and a window shattered. Two people were hit by the falling glass at about 8:45 a.m. and were taken to Roosevelt Hospital with minor injuries, according to police.

  • Arrest in attack on teen in elevator

    Arrest in attack on teen in elevator

    Thursday, July 31 2014 9:24 AM EDT2014-07-31 13:24:13 GMT
    Two thugs were caught on security camera footage beating a teenager and stealing from her inside an apartment building in the Midwood section of Brooklyn.  The NYPD says the attackers are seen dragging the 18-year-old out of an elevator into the hallway and punching and kicking her.
    Police have arrested one of two suspects wanted in the brutal attack of a teenager inside her apartment building in the Midwood section of Brooklyn. The thugs were caught on security camera footage beating the 18-year-old at about 9:34 on Sunday night. The attackers are seen dragging the girl out of an elevator into the hallway and punching and kicking her. Tyler Hopping, 18, was arrested on Wednesday.
Powered by WorldNow
Didn't find what you were looking for?
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 Fox Television Stations, Inc. and Worldnow. All Rights Reserved.
Privacy Policy | Terms of Service | Ad Choices