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On June 6th, the world will commerate the 60th anniversary of the D-Day invasion which opened the way for Allied forces to gain victory over the Germans in World War II. Springfield resident Ralph Manley was a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division, and played a vital role in the battle. Manley returned to France to join his fellow veterans in a remembrance of the event that changed world history.
Well in advance of the amphibious landings that would deliver 134,000 Allied troops to the beaches of Normandy on June 6th 1944, 24,000 American and British paratroopers dropped from the skies into the fields and farmlands beyond the coast. Their mission was to secure the east and west flanks of the routes Allied forces would take out of Normandy, through France, and eventually into Germany. The 16,000 American paratroopers who took part in the D-Day invasion were from the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions. Springfield Mayor Pro Tem Ralph Manley was then a private in the 101st. For him, D-Day began around 10 PM June 5th when his plane joined over 800 others transporting paratroopers to their assigned drop zones. German anti aircraft fire started as the planes crossed the coastline of France and when the 18 soldiers in Manley's plane began their drop, the plane took several hits, caught on fire, and began to fall from the sky. Manley was one of only 5 paratroopers to make it out before the plane crashed.
On the ground, Ralph Manley teamed up with any American Soldiers he could find and they began to complete their assigned mission. Manley was a demolitionist, and was carrying a heavy load. In fact, his total weight before boarding the plane that took him to France was 417 pounds. Along with some personal items for hygiene and basic survival, he was carrying a flamethrower, his rifle and pistol along with 150 rounds of ammunition, anti tank mines, plastic explosives, and grenades.
Manley says he weighed 180 pounds without all the gear, and is proud that even today, he still weighs 180 pounds, and his jump uniform still fits! He will be wearing the same uniform this weekend at D-Day anniversary events when he will again jump from a plane to land on French soil. At the time of this writing though, Manley is still awaiting word on weather or not French officials will allow him to make the drop. He says he is ready, in good physical condition, and is still in practice as he jumped twice in May 2004.
Manley's career in the 101st included a jump into Holland, and more combat in France and Belgium when he took part in the Battle of the Bulge. His unit fought in the battle for Bastogne when the Germans had the division trapped there for nearly a month. Manley says he and his fellow "Screaming Eagles" had the Germans right where they wanted them. The 101st Airborne Division was one the most highly decorated units of World War II.