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thedrifter
05-19-04, 07:38 AM
Veterans gear up for one more campaign





Former paratroopers fight for D-Day jump
By Michael Burge
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
May 17, 2004 A 79-year-old World War II veteran will jump out of an airplane tomorrow to prove to the world yet again that he is fit enough to honor the soldiers who parachuted 60 years ago on D-Day.

Richard Mandich, a resident of Loma Portal, also will try to prove that he and a group of 10 veterans can jump safely over France during the celebration of D-Day's anniversary June 5 and 6 in Normandy.

The Army has denied Mandich and his group permission to re-enact the historic jump during the official celebration. Officials say they fear for the safety of the veterans, whose average age is about 80.

Mandich and four other veterans will make two jumps beginning tomorrow near Lake Elsinore to qualify at altitudes of 1,000 to 3,000 feet. Other veterans will make similar qualifying jumps elsewhere in the country.

"I think it's like anything in life," Mandich said of his quest to jump during the D-Day festivities. "You keep trying to do things you can do."

Mandich, a veteran of the 101st Airborne Division, did not jump over Normandy on June 6, 1944. He made his first combat jump over Holland three months later.

Mandich has fought this battle before. He led a group of 41 veterans who were initially refused permission to re-enact the jump for the 50th D-Day anniversary in 1994, and won that fight after a public relations blitz.

"History somehow repeats itself," said Max Gurney, vice president of the Return to Normandy Association. Gurney, 83, said he will travel to France this month to try to persuade French officials to allow the veterans to jump.

"My expectation is (the group) should be able to jump June 7," the day after the official ceremonies, said Gurney, a veteran of five ground campaigns. He will not jump himself.

Marine Col. Jeff Douglass, a military adviser for the World War II Commemoration Committee, said he respects the veterans' enthusiasm and patriotism, but he added that their desire to parachute during the celebration puts the Army in a difficult position.

"Should there be an event that goes wrong and either causes injury or loss of life, it would mar the entire event," Douglass said. "The questions we would be getting would be, 'How could you allow guys in their 80s to jump?' "

The U.S. Army Europe is organizing this year's festivities, which will include appearances by President Bush and French President Jacques Chirac.

Douglass said 600 active soldiers in the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions will jump June 5, the first day of the celebration.

D-Day marked the first day of the Battle of Normandy, when 150,000 Allied servicemen landed on the beaches to open the Allied invasion of France. The 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions sent about 16,000 paratroopers and glider-borne soldiers into battle. They suffered about 2,500 casualties combined.

Richard Case, 83, of Las Vegas recalled the fearful night as the pilot of the airplane he was riding in veered off course to evade anti-aircraft fire.

"We landed seven and a half miles from the drop zone," said Case, who was a private in the 101st Airborne when he jumped on D-Day.

He said that confusion probably worked to the Allies' advantage, as German forces spread themselves out trying to find the main attack force.

Case, who is planning to jump at Lake Elsinore tomorrow, acknowledged the risk.

"My argument is it's really no more dangerous than driving an automobile in town these days," said Case, who jumped over Normandy for the 50th anniversary.

Bob McCaffery, who heads a group called Friends of D-Day 2004, is pushing to get permission for the veterans to re-enact the jump as part of next month's ceremonies.

"Ten years ago there were 41 of them (who jumped); now there's 10," said McCaffery, of Las Vegas. "We're losing our live voice of D-Day history. When these guys are gone, that's it."

McCaffery said he has a strong symbolic argument in the person of former President Bush, who parachuted over Texas five years ago to celebrate his 75th birthday.

Mandich said his group won't ask to jump for the 70th anniversary.

"This is the last one," he said.



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Michael Burge: (760) 476-8230; michael.burge@uniontrib.com


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Ellie