Next Thursday marks 75 years since D-Day, when Allied forces launched an invasion of Normandy, France, during World War II.
More than 20,000 Allied airborne troops dropped over Normandy as part of the invasion, and a commemoration next week will feature hundreds of re-enactors doing the same.
One of those re-enactors will be St. Louis County sheriff's deputy Warren Johnson. His grandfather's brother, Lambert Johnson, was a paratrooper on D-Day. And in a twist, the C-47 plane Johnson will jump out of next week is the same plane his granduncle jumped out of during the invasion.
Johnson said he'd come across the plane several years ago after getting a copy of Lambert Johnson's D-Day flight manifest. When he plugged the plane's tail number into Google, he found a match to a plane in Sweden.
At first, he couldn't believe it. But after reaching out, the group in Sweden responded and told him it was the original plane that his granduncle had jumped from over France.
Then last May, when he expressed an interest in seeing the plane, a mechanic from the Swedish operation told him they were taking the plane to France for the D-Day anniversary.
Johnson said his mind was set to be part of it. He trained in Florida for the jump.
On D-Day, 1944, Allied troops invaded Nazi-occupied France. Thousands of Americans died in the attack, but the invasion secured ultimate victory over Germany.
Lambert Johnson, he said, jumped at about 2:30 a.m. that day in one of the last waves of paratroopers. By the time they reached the coast, the element of surprise was good and anti-aircraft fire filled the skies.
"They actually dropped about 7 miles deeper into France, behind enemy lines," he said. "My granduncle was able to get together with about half the guys from his aircraft" on the ground. Two were killed and others were captured.
"My granduncle and others spent days getting back to friendly forces," Johnson added. Lambert Johnson fought until January 1945, when he was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge, he added.
When Warren Johnson makes his commemorative jump next week, he said he will carry dog tags, photos and other items from family members who served.
The leap, he said, will also serve as an example to his three young children, ages 3,5 and 7.
When he speaks to his kids about Lambert Johnson and all the others who fought in on D-Day, "I don't go into the dirty details of what they went through, but I tell them that there's been a lot of sacrifices made for the peaceful life that we live today, and the freedoms we have" to pursue dreams and interests.
"There's been a high price paid for that freedom. And so, it's important to remember that, and to show respect and honor to those who have paid that price."
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