CLEVELAND – A group of World War II (search) veterans won't get to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Allied invasion of France next month the way they wanted — the Army decided they're too old to safely parachute into Normandy.
"I am depressed. I was really looking forward to it," said Howard Greenberg (search), 79. "My reason for wanting to do it was to honor two Jewish friends of mine who were killed in World War II."
"I resent being told I'm not physically fit. I only weigh 11 pounds more than I did the day I was discharged," he said.
Greenberg, a retired optometrist in suburban Bay Village, served with the 11th Airborne in the Pacific during the war and jumped into Normandy in 1994 on the 50th anniversary of D-Day (search).
That time, President Clinton gave the ultimate approval that allowed 38 veterans to jump near Ste.-Mere-Eglise, the D-Day objective of the 82nd Airborne Division.
Some of them landed on a herd of French cows.
Bob McCaffery, chairman of the Friends of D-Day 2004 (search), the group raising money to pay for the jump, said he was notified of the Army's decision on Thursday.
"The Army realized that these guys have trained and they are the exception among average 80-year-olds," said McCaffery, of Las Vegas, Nev. "But they said the risk of an injury happening at a ceremony of this magnitude was just too great."
McCaffery had hoped President Bush would intercede this time, in part because the first President Bush parachuted when he was 75.
McCaffery said the group will appeal to the White House, but acknowledged the situation is complicated by other events going on to mark the anniversary. White House spokesman Trent Duffy said the White House typically reviews such requests. Army Col. Dan Wolfe, executive officer of the World War II Commemoration Committee, did not return a call to his office seeking comment Saturday.
Greenberg said he was aware of the danger.
In 1995, he was one of six WWII paratroopers who went to Russia for an airborne tribute. His jump was canceled after the man who jumped before him was killed when his parachute failed to open.
In 2000, while performing a tribute near Fort Bragg, N.C., another member of Greenberg's group was killed when his parachute did not open properly.
"My wife was not crazy about me jumping again," Greenberg said.