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Ellicott City parachutist dropping into France for D-Day 70th

An Ellicott City resident has spent this past week in Normandy, taking an unique perspective on the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion during World War II.

Scott Gray, 48, a member of the Maryland-based Round Canopy Parachute Team, is taking part in commemorative parachute jumps over Normandy and other locations in France to commemorate the events that led to the end of Nazi occupation of France.

"What we do [is] a humble act of remembrance that takes very little courage compared to the bravery of those heroic lads during the invasion of Normandy," Gray said in an email from France.

Gray, a former Army paratrooper who works as a program director for Lockheed Martin in Woodlawn, said marking this anniversary of D-Day is especially important, as many of those who were involved in the invasion have reached an advanced age.

"Most of our WWII veterans are in their 90s and the vast majority of them likely will not see the 75th anniversary, sadly," he said.

Round Canopy Parachuting Team is an international group founded in 2009, with a home base in Frederick and several members throughout the Mid-Atlantic. The nonprofit focuses on making jumps with parachutes that feature round canopies as a way to memorialize Allied soldiers who fought and died during the liberation of Europe in World War II.

Commemorative events for the 70th anniversary of the June 6, 1944 D-Day invasion started June 3 and come to a close Sunday. On the schedule were five mass parachute jumps, involving 60 volunteer jumpers in World War II uniforms and more than 15 of the C-47 Dakota aircraft used during the D-Day invasion.

The event also included gatherings of World War II veterans, their families and the people of Europe.

Gray, a program director at Lockheed Martin, left Ellicott City last Saturday for the trip to England, then France in advance of ceremonies. Events for the week included a June 4 drop in Carentan, France; a June 5 drop during the large commemoration at Utah Beach; and additional drops on June 6, 7 and 8.

The re-enactments have featured jumpers from around the world between the ages of 18 to over 70, many of them presently serving in the military or veterans. Gray has jumped more than 800 times in his lifetime.

Gray serves as the chief rigger and safety officer for the Round Canopy group and has taken part in previous commemorative jumps in Normandy — including one in last year from a C-47 that flew during the World War II invasion.

Gray took video of that jump, and it's available for viewing on YouTube at youtube.com/watch?v=QeyzOZgfkXw.

"Why we do this, the answer is very simple," he said. "To honor the memory of the nearly 20,000 airborne soldiers that stepped boldly into the dark night … to bring freedom to Europe."

Baltimore Sun reporter Jim Joyner contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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