WWII Veterans Hold Savannah Reunion - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

08/20/05

WWII Veterans Hold Savannah Reunion

Two hundred World War II veterans and their families are wrapping up a week in Savannah. The 517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team is marking 61 years since their famous jump over southern France.

Sixty one years ago, the all volunteer unit was on a mission half a world away, defending the beaches of southern France. Sergeant Major Leo Dean remembers every minute.

"We jumped at about 4:30 a.m. It was dark. It was the last night parachute jump of WWII," he said. "They just scattered us over hell."

The men would jump over a 40-mile radius. Still, they managed to accomplish their goal.

"Our mission was to seal off all the roads, stop the reinforcements from getting down to the beach and stop the troops on the beach from retreating," explained Sergeant Major Leo Dean, "which we did."

It was a big task; however, these men chose to be part of the unit. Lieutenant General Richard Seitz, then a battalion commander, chose most of them.

"Most of them were handpicked by me," he said, "and more eliminated were than accepted. I say to this day, these 517th men are the finest to put on a pair of jump boots."

The men received an extra $50 a month pay for volunteering, but Sergeant Major Leo Dean had another reason for signing up.

"I wanted to win the war," he said. "I wanted to be in action. I wanted to be with the good guys. As a matter of fact, I didn't even know they were going to pay me to do it. I would have done it for free."

Even though those sacrifices were made sixty-one years ago, they are still being remembered by the people of France, today. Patricia Orengo and her husband, Roland, befriended some of the men when they visited their town of Sospel, France a few years ago.

"They give us the liberties of freedom," she explained, "so yes, it is a very proud moment for us."

Bill Cathcart, WTOC'S general manager, served as a special guest speaker. Sergeant Major Leo Dean is still parachute jumping. On Friday, the 81 year old WWII veteran made a tandem jump.

Reported by: Liz Flynn, lflynn@wtoc.com

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