Sunday, June 5, 2011

82nd Airborne paratrooper will help head observance of D-Day in France.



Verne Strickland Blogmaster

Story Photo
Staff photo by Marcus Castro
Staff Sgt. Jonathan Hercik will be with a select group of 82nd Airborne Division soldiers who will take part in a jump as part of observances of the 67th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. Hercik is the division's Jumpmaster of the Year.
Story Photo
AP file photo
U.S. troops come ashore at Omaha Beach during the June 6, 1944, invasion of the Normandy coast.

Sometime today, Staff Sgt. Jonathan Hercik will be flying over northern France in the belly of a Lockheed C-130 Hercules loaded with a group of paratroopers representing Fort Bragg's 82nd Airborne Division.

Their mission: parachute over La Fiere Drop Zone in commemoration of Operation Neptune, the initial airborne assault phase of the storied Normandy landings of World War II.

Monday marks the 67th anniversary of D-Day, which ranks among World War II's defining moments. A weeklong crusade of remembrance, complete with a return to the beaches and battlefields of Normandy, is planned through Tuesday.

As primary jumpmaster on the 82nd Airborne drop, Hercik will be in charge of the 20 to 30 troopers in the aircraft. A lanky 27-year-old infantryman from Wadsworth, Ohio, Hercik is assigned to Fort Bragg's Company B, 2nd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment.

He called this, his 48th jump, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

"I'm really excited about the airborne operation portion of it," Hercik said. "It bears a lot of responsibility. It's an honor to be the primary jumpmaster on this."

In 1944, Operation Neptune took place on the night of June 5 and the following morning of June 6. The air assault, a mass operation of troops from the 82nd, Fort Campbell's 101st Airborne Division and Great Britain's forces, allowed the Allies to place soldiers on the ground behind enemy lines.
"They opened up a lot of bridges that would be needed for armor. ... They assaulted several German strongholds, such as St. Mere Eglise, which is close to where we will be jumping. They pretty much prepared the way for the mainland assault," said Hercik.

Jimmie Hallis, the curator for the 82nd Airborne Division War Memorial Museum on Fort Bragg, said the airborne phase of the Allies' Normandy invasion was designed to bring mass destruction and confusion to the German army.

"The Germans were already suspect of where the invasion was coming," Hallis said. "Deception on the Allies' part caused them to stumble and stall. When the paratroopers hit the ground, it caused the Germans a lot of problems, and then the seaborne invasion pretty much sealed the fate for the Germans in Europe and, especially, in France."

Nearly seven decades later, D-Day - the Allies' amphibious invasion of northern France on June 6, 1944 - remains the largest seaborne invasion in recorded history. Troops from the United States, Britain, Canada and France stormed ashore over a 60-mile front.
"It was the main foothold on the continent for the Allies. It's the foothold in the European theater and the beginning of the end for the Germans," Hallis said.

Allied forces charged the shores of five beaches on France's northern coast, facing heavy artillery, machine guns and German land mines. The cost was high: About 215,000 Allied soldiers and about as many Germans were killed or wounded during D-Day and the ensuing three months before the Allies captured Normandy.
That stronghold opened a path toward Paris, eventually leading them to Germany and victory over Hitler's Nazi regime.

When Hercik was told he had been selected to represent the 82nd during the 67th anniversary ceremonies, he went back and reviewed the importance of the D-Day invasion. "Just the scope of this airborne operation and the mainland assault to Normandy, France, was huge," he said.

Hercik didn't just receive this honor: He earned it. Hercik won the 2011 Division Jumpmaster of the Year competition in April, bettering 2,300 jumpmasters on Fort Bragg along the way.

Some of the other troopers selected for the D-Day jump team also won competitions. Sgt. Maximo Miranda, who is with Hercik's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, was chosen after taking first place in the Brigade Noncommissioned Officer of the Year competition.

A couple of paratroopers will represent each brigade combat team on post. Some of the support units also are sending paratroopers to the international observance.

Maj. Gen. Jim Huggins, the commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, and Command Sgt. Maj. Bryant Lambert will head the command team.

Along with today's scheduled jump, Hercik expects to be involved in an itinerary of ceremonies and dinners that the French locals are hosting. While there, he hopes to visit war museums around Normandy, such as those at St. Mere Eglise, Carentan and Cherbourg.

"I'll be able to see the drop zones they dropped on and get a feeling for that history," he said. "Even more so than I can sitting here at Fort Bragg. And to meet the French people - the locals there - it's all special."

Staff writer Michael Futch can be reached at futchm@fayobserver.com or 486-3529.