I am pleased the D-Day Invasion of Normandy gallery contains a new uniform, though it’s not new to me. While refreshing the Normandy gallery and in keeping with generally accepted professional practice, the Museum decided to rotate as many textile items as possible out of the exhibit. Many of the items had been on display there since the gallery opened in June 2000. Rotating sensitive artifacts back into storage ensures their long-term preservation. Items that have not been on exhibit before are needed to take their place. For this purpose, I loaned the uniform my father, Alphonse Czekanski, wore when he parachuted into Normandy.
Papa enlisted in the Army in 1940. He was serving at Schofield Barracks in the Territory of Hawaii when it was attacked by the Empire of Japan on December 7, 1941. He attended Officers Candidate School at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and then volunteered for the Airborne. He was assigned to the 376th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion that was part of the 504th Regimental Combat Team. He had served in North Africa, been shot down by friendly fire during the drop in Sicily, and fought along the Volturno River and at Anzio before returning to England in preparation for the invasion of Normandy. Ultimately it was decided that the 376th and 504th would not participate as a whole in the jump. Instead, individual members were used to supplement the forces that would be engaged.
My father landed near Sainte-Mère-Église and later fought at La Fière Bridge before being sent back to England to rejoin his unit.
Understanding the importance of this invasion, he saved the uniform he wore, the M1942 jump suit specifically designed for use by America’s airborne forces. As with most airborne uniforms worn at Normandy, this one has been reinforced by the unit riggers. Interestingly, the right elbow is reinforced on the inside rather that the outside. I asked about this once and my father told me it was because he carried a Thompson submachine gun and would fire it from the hip, holding the butt against the inside of his elbow.
I am delighted to share this artifact and my father’s story here. I have often thought of him and the WWII connections of my other relatives while working at the Museum. While dad was parachuting into Normandy, his brother Julian waited in the English Channel in an LST to come ashore with the 2nd Armored Division. Meanwhile, Julian’s wife served as a SPAR with the US Coast Guard. His half brother, John Wojcik, was an electrician’s mate in the US Navy stationed at the shipyard in Pearl Harbor, and my mother, Margaret Wermes, worked as a secretary for Baldwin Piano Company, which made wings for gliders during the war.
It is an honor to remember them and the many, many others who contributed to victory.