On Memorial Day: Honoring & Remembering WW II Veteran Paratroopers Members of the Return to Normandy Association
May 25, 2020
By Dr. Bettina Experton, Former Team Physician of the Return to Normandy Association

On this Memorial Day, I am remembering and would like to honor the extraordinary group of WW II Veteran paratroopers who reenacted their D-Day parachute jump in Normandy for the 50th and 60th anniversaries of D-Day in Sainte-Mère-Eglise in June 1994 and 2004, and for whom I had the privilege to be their team physician.

Coming from all over the country and all walks of life, forty four WW II paratroopers gathered in 1994 under the leadership of Richard Mandich, Emile Gueguen and Max Gurney of San Diego, to form the Return to Normandy Association in honor of their fallen comrade soldiers by reenacting their historic jump.

return to normandy

Except for expert paratrooper Bill Priest and the group’s - and President Georges Bush’s - jump master Tom Morrison, none of them had parachute jumped since June 6, 1944. And in June 2004 six of them, Carl Beck of Georgia, Bill Coleman and Bill Priest of Florida, Dick Case of Las Vegas, Howard Greenberg of Ohio, and Tom Morrison of Pennsylvania, all of them in their late 80s or early 90s, did it again!

Taking on the challenge and determined to conquer their fear one more time, regardless of the array of chronic health conditions (heart or lung disease, diabetes, severe arthritis, etc.) most of them suffered from, they trained, practiced and succeeded! They did it not for bravado but for remembering and never forgetting. Next to them for two unforgettable weeks almost 20 and 30 years ago, I had the privilege to see in them what duty, courage, resilience, determination, imagination, leadership and humility is all about when faced with the horror of war and re-living it again half a century later.

As we are again challenged both as individuals and as a nation in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, for which older Americans are even more at risk, my forever Return to Normandy friends are reminding us that with resilience and determination this challenge can be overcome – even for those most at risk.

Until a medication or vaccination cure is found, and while being smart practicing social distancing and wearing masks, we also have now technology tools in the hands of most us, to connect, learn, and prevent epidemic spread by better understanding our risk and helping on contact tracing. Now all of our nine million Veterans using any type of smartphone can have their medical information with them at all times, as 53 million Americans in Medicare fee-for service can do as well since March 2018. And on May 1st, CMS and the ONC finally published their final Interoperability, Patient Access and Cures Act rules! As ONC Director Dr. Don Rucker said: "This pandemic really points out the need to have interoperability...and patient rights to have their data”. Starting January 2021, when the CMS rule will become effective, millions more Americans will be able to use their mobile application of choice to have in their hands their most critical health information to review, and share when needed. In the age of and post COVID-19 when telemedicine becomes a prevalent way to seek medical care, having your medical history readily available to share with your mobile phone with a telehealth physician most of us would have never seen before, can be both cost and lifesaving.

On this Memorial Day, quoting my wonderful forever friend WW II paratrooper member of the 82nd Airborne Division, Carl Beck, to each and all of us: TAKE CARE, AND BLUE SKIES!

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