(WVUE) - Paratrooper Tom Blakey was just 23-years-old when he jumped with the 82nd Airborne into Normandy on D-Day.
Now, 70-years later, he's returning to Normandy to mark the anniversary of the invasion that changed the momentum of WWII.
While troops were landing on the beaches, paratroopers were landing inland - fighting battles like the one at the La Fiere Bridge over the Merderet River. This is where the New Orleans veteran fought. He returned Wednesday for the 70th anniversary.
It was just after midnight, the morning of June 6, when Blakey made his first jump into combat with the 82nd Airborne.
"I looked at my watch and I was standing up and hooked up. I looked at my watch and it was quarter of one. So I know that within 15 minutes I [would be] on the ground," said Blakey.
The airborne drop did not go as planned. Planes were miles off target. Companies and men were separated.
"When those planes start dodging, they're dropping paratroopers out on these points and that breaks up the whole stick," explained Blakey. "I didn't see anybody. I couldn't find anybody on the ground. I finally wound up with four other fellows from different outfits."
Blakey wound up fighting German infantry and tanks for control of a bridge at La Fiere. It was a crucial exit for troops landing at Utah Beach. American casualties ran into the hundreds at La Fiere.
"You don't deal with it. You turn around and walk off. You put it in the back of your mind. You couldn't let those things interfere with what you were supposed to do," Blakey said. "I don't know why I'm sitting here. I've got a whole bunch of guys that were a helluva' lot better men than I am back over there under one of those white crosses."
"We had a fight about right here," said Blakey as he walked the grounds. "I had no idea that this bridge was as little as it was. The monument back up here on the hill is super."
This is the ninth time that Blakey has returned to France. But this time, he is amazed at the attention the paratroopers still receive from the French citizens of Normandy.
"The people in this outfit, they had done so much to make it work. They've built monuments after monument after monument for us. The ones that were here to begin with are gone. But these are carrying on."