Return to Normandy


POSTED: Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Kaneohe resident will return to Normandy, where he parachuted 65 years ago before the allies stormed the beaches of France, but instead of carrying a rifle, he will be armed with 1,500 orchid blossoms.

D. Zane Schlemmer, 84, with the help of another 82nd Airborne Division veteran, former Capt. Chester Graham, hopes to drop the flowers over the village Sainte Mere Eglise as part of the 65th anniversary celebration of D-Day.

The village was supposed to be his drop zone on June 6, 1944. During the invasion, code-named Operation Overlord, about 135,000 Allied soldiers landed on the beaches of Normandy on the English Channel.

Schlemmer, a retired real estate developer, was a 19-year-old sergeant from North Canton, Ohio, when he joined the 17,000 paratroopers of the 82nd “;All American”; and the 101st “;Screaming Eagles”; airborne divisions who were supposed to drop near Sainte Mere Eglise and Carentan.

But darkness and German anti-aircraft fire forced the C-47 Dakota troop transports to miss the drop zone. Instead, Schlemmer's 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment landed at 1:30 a.m. in an orchard in Picauville—more than a mile away from his drop zone.

Schlemmer said Graham has negotiated the use of a vintage C-47 to drop the 1,500 orchid flowers that he bought from a local florist.

The four-day D-Day commemorative events will run Wednesday to next Sunday. The Normandy American Cemetery in Coleville-Sur-Mer, which overlooks Omaha Beach, will host the main U.S. ceremony on Saturday. President Barack Obama is expected to address a crowd that could be as large as 8,000 people.

Schlemmer is not planning to attend the president's speech, which is by invitation only.

However, he and couple of the soldiers from his unit, including Graham, will be honored Saturday at the Airborne Museum in the Normandy American Cemetery at Saint Mere Eglise by being awarded France's Legion of Honor medal.

He also plans to be at Picauville, where a new memorial to 9th Air Force personnel killed in aircraft crashes during the invasion will be dedicated. The memorial will also honor paratroopers of the 82nd and 101st airborne divisions who perished alongside the air crews at Picauville, west of Sainte Mere Eglise.

There also is a street—Rue Schlemmer—named after him in Picauville, west of Sainte Mere Eglise, the first town liberated by the Allies in 1944.

Schlemmer said there also is a plaque with his name in a field to mark where he landed at 1:30 a.m.

Next Sunday, 300 paratroopers from 82nd Airborne Division and 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team and France will perform an airborne drop near Sainte Mere Eglise.

Schlemmer and his son also plan to visit Holland, where Schlemmer made his second combat jump with the 82nd as part of Operation Market Garden. There he will place red anthuriums on the graves of his fellow paratroopers.