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Ya'alon joins veterans on jump to mark Nazi defeat

By 6:50 a.m. the sun was rising over the Judean ridges.

As the C-130s approached the Palmahim Beach drop zone, the doors whooshed open, sending dust and dazzling sunlight flying through the darkened cabin. Some were muttering to themselves. Others bore idiotic grins that only airborne veterans could manage before hurling themselves out of an airplane. And there were undoubtedly a few who had visions of nightmarish malfunctions as they waited for the signal. "Kfotz!" "Jump!" "Sauter!" "Sprung!" "Salto!" they shouted as nationalities dissolved with a simple leap into the naked sky. Former and active airborne veterans from the United States military joined French, British, Italian, South African, German and Israeli paratroopers in a multinational jump to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the defeat of the Nazis. "My one regret is that I never got to fight the Nazis," said retired US Marine Col. Butch Brydon, 83, a feisty veteran of vicious battles against the Japanese in the Pacific. "I would never have taken any prisoners. I would have killed every mother-f***ing one of them." At 167 cm., Brydon tossed his stocky, octogenarian frame from the aircraft for what would be his 65th jump with the IDF. IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Moshe Ya'alon shuffled toward the open door of the C-130, the first in his eight-person "stick" to jump. He stared through his large glasses toward the orange orchards and sand dunes just 3,600 feet below. He grinned, appearing relaxed as he waited for the green light and order to jump. For the past weeks, he has bade farewell to most units after a 37-year military career. He flew in fighter jets, drove tanks and more. But he chose to spend his final moments in uniform at Palmahim Beach, delivering a potent message of military victory over the Nazis by a show of military agility - jumping out of a plane. "This is my finale," said Ya'alon, who steps down Wednesday. "Here I started and here I finish." He leaped out the door and entered the exclusive realm of the paratrooper, the jolt of the parachute opening (always a second later than expected) followed by the calm of wind whistling softly as the roar of the turbo-props fades and parachutes snap open all around you filling the sky with olive-green canopies for a minute of private human flight. Ya'alon's bodyguard quickly trailed him out the door, followed by more paratroopers. A total of 240 paratroopers participated in "Freedom Jump," including 49 from 10 countries, foreign military attaches, reservists and this journalist. Throughout the morning, as airborne veterans and modern-day Israeli paratroopers floated down onto the warm Palmahim dunes, the crowd at the jump zone grew more enthusiastic. People clapped. Children gawked. Champagne corks flew. David Schiller, a German-born veteran of the IDF, wore a replica of a Second World War British paratrooper's uniform. Ya'alon signed the logbooks of the foreign veterans. "I hope we won't have to parachute in Europe ever again," he said. Paratroopers in US-Army issue jungle camouflage contrasted noticeably with the khaki fatigues and desert uniforms of other countries. The Italians were impeccably decked out in chic, dark camouflage uniforms. The most conspicuous, however, were the Germans in their dull gray jumpsuits. In an informal ceremony, the contingents shouted out their airborne slogans. "Para Fologore!" shouted the Italians. "Airborne. All the Way!" shouted the Americans. The six German paratroopers then hushed the crowd with their clipped shout: "Gluck ab! Gluck ab! Gluck ab!" "We are very proud to bring our group here," said Lt. (res.) Jugen Zieringer, 39, an engineer whose father was in the Hitler Youth and grandfather died in France as a soldier in the Wehrmacht. "The freedom of Germany was a good thing for me and for Germany." "It's a little strange to hear this. I won't deny that," said Brig.-Gen. Yossi Hyman, the IDF's chief infantry and paratrooper officer. "We are marking 60 years of the defeat of the Nazis and that's important, especially for me since my father survived Bergen-Belsen," the Nazi death camp. "Every day I live with the Holocaust. It is not simple. We appreciate the German participation, but we can't forget," Hyman said. Yet, for these paratroopers, fraternity comes before politics. To hear them tell it, the world's airborne veterans are a veritable family of man and not necessarily people who have a mental problem of wanting to jump out of airplanes. The veteran paratroopers included battle-hardened military career men who belonged to such elite combat units as the US Green Berets, but there were also a number of middle-aged, slightly overweight airborne veterans. One lost a leg in combat in Vietnam and jumped wearing a prosthesis. "I didn't want the Israelis to know beforehand so they wouldn't let me jump," the US veteran said. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz was to have been in the first plane, but pulled out at the last minute. Other officials who participated were Yitzhak Mordechai, a former defense minister, and MK Uzi Landau, as well as some members of the IDF General Staff. "My wife was more afraid of me coming to Israel than jumping out of a plane," said Bruno Hattry, 36, of Versailles, France. "My family doesn't even know what I'm doing. They think I'm just on some tour of the Holy Land," said Rick Vattuone, from San Diego. "I came because I love parachuting and wanted to jump in the Holy Land," said Alton Nini, 62, a Vietnam veteran with a white handlebar mustache from Fort Worth, Texas. Sky-watching spectators began pointing at a blue chute and paratrooper dangling a Puerto Rican flag. US Army veteran Andre Vergara, 82, was the only veteran paratrooper jumping to have fought Nazis. "I don't forget," the spry veteran recalled on the ground later. "We lost a lot of good boys in Monte Cassino [Italy]." But Vergara was more interested in talking about parachuting than his record in Europe, Korea and Vietnam, where he won a Silver Star and two Bronze Stars for bravery. Over the gate of the military jump school are the words "Via Dolorosa" - the way of the suffering - which is quite appropriate considering that the base is composed mainly of sand pits to practice rolls, mock aircraft to practice boarding, and a 35-meter-high jump tower that reputedly gives the sensation of your parachute opening, but actually feels more like being hanged. The Israeli paratroopers call this tower "Eichmann," after the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann who was captured and hanged in 1962. The German paratroopers laughed it off, but it did raise the touchy question of what their fathers and grandfathers did in the war. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the commander of the IDF's first paratrooper brigade, was represented in the jump by his media adviser Col. (res.) Ra'anan Gissin. He said the choice of marking the victory over the Nazis by an international parachute jump was aimed at shifting the focus from the Holocaust to valor. "This jump is compensation for the overbearing feeling of being the victim. When we commemorate the Second World War it has always been 'the Holocaust, the victim.' We wanted to explain that over 1.5 million Jews fought as soldiers in the war," said Gissin, who also parachuted. Gissin recalled the 33 parachutists from pre-state Palestine who jumped behind enemy lines to fight in Europe. Most were caught and killed by the Nazis. "This was the time to put the proper perspective and highlight the acts of valor and not just the acts of extermination," Gissin said. "And this is not just a parachute jump. This is an expression of solidarity with Israel." It was only appropriate that the commemoration be marked by paratroopers and not other branches of the militaries. More than commemorating the defeat of the Nazis, more than forging ties with foreign veterans, what this was really all about was men parachuting for the sake of parachuting.

Datum: 31. 05. 2005


Foto týdne

Výročí: 27. 5. 1942 atentát na Heydricha. Na obr. samopal Sten, stejný typ, jaký Jozefu Gabčíkovi při útoku selhal.

Výročí: 27. 5. 1942 atentát na Heydricha. Na obr. samopal Sten, stejný typ, jaký Jozefu Gabčíkovi při útoku selhal.

Recenze týdne

Peiperova válka

Válečná léta velitele SS Jochena Peipera: 1941–1945

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