Dave Downey

Dave Downey, far right, poses with a group of paratroopers he jumped with on Wednesday, June 5, in France to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

The adventure started with a group of 15 friends.

"We were talking about going to Saint-Mere-Eglise for the 75th anniversary of D-Day," said Dave Downey, an Inverness resident who served in the Marine Corps from 1973-1977. "I said, 'Yeah, that’d be cool, let’s just walk around and look.'"

Downey’s friends had other plans.

“They said, ‘No Dave, we’ll go jump.’”

With his friends’ encouragement, Downey traveled to France to parachute during the weeklong commemoration of the 75th anniversary of D-Day in Sainte-Mere-Eglise.

Downey, 63, had one hurdle to cross — he had never parachuted before. For the past 15 months, he trained to make the jump from an aircraft along with 80 other paratroopers for the Normandy ceremony.

“You had to be experienced to land there,” said Downey. “You have to be jumping ... on a regular basis, and you have to be physically in good shape ... you have to land on the ground and get back up.”

While parachuting is thrilling, it's not child’s play, Downey said.

"We refer to it as organized chaos," Downey said. "It's kind of like when you see all those race cars going around that racetrack. It really looks dangerous, and it is, but if everybody is well-trained, they’ll be fine.”

On Wednesday, June 5, Downey was ready to make his 22nd jump to commemorate those who jumped in June 1944.

“I had a lot of mixed feelings about this because I would never do anything like this, but because I was with so many well-trained people, who I had complete confidence and faith in, I knew I was safe,” Downey said.

Downey said service runs in his family.

“What it meant was patriotism," he said. "My father, uncles, and grandfather all served.”

Downey said he was honored to participate in the anniversary ceremonies, remembering those who helped secure the allies’ victory and, in time, end the Second World War. In the attempt to recreate the original landing for those watching from below, he and his paratroopers jumped in proper 1944-style uniforms.

“It’s us and all the people of the area,” Downey said. "They pay tribute to the men who came through bullets.”

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Contact Chronicle intern Reilly Cash at reilly.cash@chronicleonline.com.

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