ERMELO, Netherlands - The fourth time since 2014, exercise Falcon Leap, served to honor the lives lost on both sides during Operation Market Garden. This year, approximately 750 soldiers from the U.S., the Netherlands, France, Britain, Poland, Germany and Belgium participated in the commemoration, September 17-22. Events included a simulation of the aerial assault by parachuting into the Netherlands just like the Allied soldiers did in September of 1944.
“Falcon Leap allows us to interact with our partner nations and cross train with them,” said Col. Pete Fechtmann, mission commander for the U.S. airborne operation during Falcon Leap, while waiting to board a plane for his first jump of the day. “But one of the main reasons is commemoration. We don’t want to forget what happened in history.”
Fechtmann said the ability to work together with partner nations stems from the memories of our greatest conflicts. Working together helps us share knowledge and experience with our allies, which includes enemies of our past, to build camaraderie for the future.
“There’s definitely a brotherhood to it, we all know what everyone goes through,” said Spc. Mark Freshour, 1-501st Parachute Infantry Regiment. “We have a deep understanding of what we do, there’s an airborne language. So even if we don’t speak the same language, speaking to a German [paratrooper] who doesn’t [know any] English, if I do something, he knows what it means. We’re speaking the same language in a sense.”
Freshour said the paratrooper’s language started with the soldiers who jumped during World War II, and participating in exercise Falcon Leap is a direct connection to his unit’s past and heritage. “It’s not just a normal jump,” said Freshour. “We’re actually getting to relive, in a sense, what the people who came before us came and did. We’re honoring them by doing the same jump they did.” The weather and jump conditions were very similar to what the paratroopers experienced in 1944, but Freshour said the biggest difference was that it was safe. The soldiers today aren’t facing gunfire or weeks of hard fighting ahead.
“The amount of obstacles they had to endure evokes a sense of pride and loss, and a sense of brotherhood,” said 1-501st Parachute Infantry Regiment Command Sergeant Major Joseph Hissong. “For me, personally, to know what those men went through gives me nothing but immense pride to be a part of this.”
During 1944, the 501st PIR was one unit that suffered the most casualties on the Waal River, more than 600 men said Hissong. He was honored to be able to attend the ceremony at the Dutch memorial bridge, built at the actual crossing site the soldiers used on September 20, 1944, and aptly named “De Oversteek,” the Dutch word for “the crossing.”
The 74th commemoration of Operation Market Garden with exercise Falcon Leap ended on a chilly fall morning to the sound of bagpipes during a ceremony at the drop zone in Ermelo. The last demonstration jump by the multinational coalition of paratroopers was watched by a crowd of thousands of Dutch citizens. The ceremony ended with remarks by the Mayor of Eindhoven, who emphasized the ideas that are kept alive during remembrances like this – freedom can not be taken for granted.