A trip to remember: The Clines take Normandy by storm

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The circumstances were drastically different, of course, but it was a proud and emotional moment for Army 1st Lt. David Cline on Sunday when he parachuted into a northern France drop zone that 74 years earlier was part of the D-Day invasion.

As he and other NATO paratroopers landed, thousands of people were cheering, many of them waving American flags.

“It’s like you’re a rock star,” Cline said by telephone from Paris on Monday. “… It was totally wild, the best experience I’ve ever had in my life.”

Cline was one of 575 soldiers from the United States, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Romania who jumped in groups of 12 from eight C-130s and C-160s. It was a tribute to jumps made on D-Day, June 6, 1944, by the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions.

What made Cline’s participation in this year’s D-Day celebration in France particularly special was that his dad, Wayne Cline of Salisbury, was able to spend the weeklong trip with him.

They arrived in France on May 29. Over the days that followed, the Clines took battlefield walks on Omaha Beach and Utah Beach and traced the path of Army Maj. Dick Winters, who was part of the 101st Airborne, and his Band of Brothers.

They visited Normandy American Cemetery, which overlooks Omaha Beach and the English Channel.

They toured many outlying villages that were hosts for American soldiers. On one night, French families made dinner for the Clines’ group.

“We learned of the struggles many of their parents and grandparents faced during the occupation,” David said.

The Clines had a chance to drive through the French countryside and explore it on their own.

It was exactly as your imagination told you it should be, David said, describing the tiny stone churches and farmhouses.

Sainte-Mere-Eglise served as their home base. It was where soldiers congregated in the evenings and the place for Sunday’s D-Day celebration, a parade through the streets and a ceremony at Normandy’s famous “Iron Mike” statue, which signifies the battle for the LaFiere bridgehead on June 6-9, 1944.

During the Clines’ stay, re-enactors poured into the region dressed in World War II uniforms.

The Clines routinely saw Frenchmen and Dutch driving tanks, Jeeps, troop carriers and other equipment from the period. Civilians dressed as though they were back in the 1940s.

“It was like you were on a movie set,” David Cline said.

Maybe the thing that amazed the Clines the most was the love and appreciation the French people in the Normandy region still have for Americans.

U.S. flags flew everywhere. The French people often approached David and other soldiers and sincerely thanked them for what Allied forces did 74 years ago.

The Battle of Normandy lasted from June to late August 1944, and it began with the D-Day invasion June 6 when about 156,000 American, British and Canadian forces landed on five beaches along a 50-mile stretch.

The occupying German forces had heavily fortified the coast of France’s Normandy region. According to estimates, more than 4,000 Allied troops died in the D-Day invasion, and thousands of others were wounded or missing.

But the invasion proved successful. By June 11, the beaches were secured and more than 326,000 troops, 50,000 vehicles and 100,000 tons of equipment were ashore at Normandy.

The landings are considered the beginning of the end of the war in Europe.

Normandy American Cemetery was established June 8, 1944, as the first U.S. cemetery in Europe during World War II. It holds the graves of more than 9,300 U.S. service personnel who died on D-Day or subsequent missions in Europe.

The Clines took a guided tour through the cemetery and learned that fathers and sons were buried there, as well as brothers.

“To see all those who crossed the sand and to have walked Omaha Beach just before that …” David Cline said. “That was absolutely sobering.”

Cline, 35, is an Army Reserve soldier who has been on active duty for about three years. He is stationed at Fort Bragg, home of the 82nd Airborne, which routinely participates in the D-Day commemorative exercises held each year.

“I was lucky enough to get a slot to participate,” Cline said. “I got selected a month and a half ago. I’m just one of 300.”

Cline parachuted off a static line from a C-130, which also carried NATO paratroopers from the Netherlands and Romania. This year marked the first time Romanian soldiers participated.

Romania fought alongside Germany in World War II until being overrun by Soviet forces in 1944. The country is now a NATO member, as is Germany.

The planes carrying Cline and other paratroopers left an airfield near Cherboug, France, and headed for the drop zone near Sainte-Mere-Eglise, where troops had landed in 1944. The total drop took about a half hour.

Many of the jumpers from the different countries traded military patches, wings and flags after reaching the ground.

Cline said the drop zone is more or less a cow pasture, which included a creek. He avoided the creek and described it as a great jump.

“It felt like falling into a pillow,” he said.

In the chest pocket of his jump uniform, Cline carried the dog tags of one of his grandfathers who was an Army tank driver in Italy and France during World War II.

He also had a shell casing from the 21-gun salute given to his other grandfather, an Air Force veteran, when he was put to rest at Salisbury National Cemetery.

In addition, Cline carried his dad’s dog tags from Wayne’s military service in the 1970s.

The landing of the paratroopers also was highlighted by a flyover from a pair of A-10 Warthogs from the Michigan Air National Guard’s 127th Wing.

David and Wayne Cline flew back to Fayetteville and Fort Bragg on Tuesday.

David Cline is a a graduate of East Rowan High School and Appalachian State University.

Wayne Cline, 70, founded Cline’s Bark, Stone and Sand on Old Concord Road, and he┬áhad no trouble keeping up with the busy itinerary in France, David said.

“It was inspiring because he was so excited,” David added. “… He saw everything with really, really fresh eyes. It was great. It’s a trip we’ll cherish for the rest of our lives.”

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263 or mark.wineka@salisburypost.com.