Bobby Zen

When Nicole Finch joined the team at Spendthrift Farm as the Marketing & Experience Coordinator in 2022, the fact that Omaha Beach–one of her favorite racehorses–was on the stallion roster wasn’t the main reason she applied, but it certainly sweetened the deal. Though her fondness for the dark bay son of War Front certainly grew as she followed his career on the track, it was his name and the deeper meaning behind it that intrigued Finch from the beginning.

Finch learned about the importance of the stallion’s namesake, one of five beach landing areas during the Allied Invasion of Normandy in World War II, and the overall significance of WWII from her father and grandfather, both military veterans.

“[On] Saturday morning, you’re watching cartoons, and then dad comes in and changes it to the History Channel. I’d get mad and want to leave the room, and he’d say, ‘No, sit down. This is important.’ Of course I hated it as a child, but as I got older, I started to realize how important that period of time was,” said Finch.

She continued to learn as much as she could about WWII, a thirst for knowledge bolstered by her childhood home’s close proximity to the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, La. Later on, in 2018, Finch and her father traveled to Europe together to tour historic WWII sites as part of the Band of Brothers Tour series, based on Stephen Ambrose’s book and the 10-part HBO series it inspired that recounts the achievements of Easy Company during WWII.

“It was really awesome going on that tour with that group in particular because when they started doing that tour, they brought the actual veterans with them. When I was there, they’d pull me over and say, ‘Stand right there. That’s the exact spot where [Carwood] Lipton landed on D-Day.’ If you watch Band of Brothers, everywhere they went, we went. That trip was pretty life changing, in ways I can’t really describe. It gave me a new appreciation,” said Finch. “It was also wild to go over there and see so many American flags in a foreign country. Every window has an American flag in it, so that was pretty crazy.”

During that trip, Finch met a group of WWII veterans who had traveled over with the Best Defense Foundation (BDF), a nonprofit organization that works with military veterans and their families to give them an opportunity to return to the battlefields where they served. Mesmerized by the veterans’ stories and the work of the BDF, Finch was inspired to take her passion for the history of WWII one step further. After sleuthing the internet, she came across the World War II Airborne Demonstration Team Foundation, based in Frederick, Okla. The Foundation, formed to remember, honor and serve the memory of the American men and women who fought and died in WWII, hosts a parachute school for members to learn and participate in active parachute jumping in the style of the WWII airborne soldier.

Finch and Omaha Beach | Courtesy Nicole Finch

Once she learned about the Foundation, Finch set a new goal: attend the parachute school and travel to Normandy, France to participate in remembrance jumps during the 80th anniversary of D-Day in 2024. And, she did. After sitting on the waitlist for two years, Finch traveled from her home in Louisville, Ky., to Oklahoma in October 2023 to participate in the nine-day “WWII Experience” parachuting school based out of the Frederick Army Air Field, a vintage WWII facility.

“We basically start at 5:30 in the morning and go until probably 7:00 or 8:00 at night for three days, and that’s just spent learning what you’re supposed to do. They throw a ton of information at you, but once you get that information, that’s all the information there is. Then it’s just repetition over and over again in different scenarios. They put you in hanging harnesses and we have a big blow-up thing that you can jump on. You’re jumping out of the actual door that we’re going to jump out of when we’re in the air. So, you get to apply all of that in a practical setting,” explained Finch. “After those three days, we have a practical exam where they put us in the harness, give us a scenario, and we have to show and tell them what we would do if we run into a power line or go into water or run into a tree, or if we have a certain malfunction, if we have a line over, etc. And there’s also a written exam.

“I was the only female in my class, so I felt pressure to perform to the standards of the males. I didn’t feel pressure from any of the guys [themselves], but I put a lot of pressure on myself and there were times that I got pretty freaking frustrated. I’m like, ‘Why can’t my body do this?’ It was very intense, both physically and mentally, more than I thought it was going to be. But I passed everything the first go-round, and then I was moved into jump status, and after that it’s just a waiting game for when the weather is right to jump.”

During her time at the parachute school, she completed five jumps and received her wings as a graduate of the course. Once officially a member, she continued to prepare for her planned trip to Normandy in early June by heading out to Oklahoma a week prior to this year’s GI Kentucky Derby for a refresher course. Finch jumped twice more, bringing her grand total of jumps to seven.

“Our team owns two DC-3 [airplanes]. One is a C-47, named Boogie Baby, and one is a C-49, named Wild Kat. Boogie Baby actually dropped troopers on D-Day, but had several other combat missions, and Wild Kat also had combat missions during WWII. They’re both over 80 years old. We have those planes to jump out of and that makes us unique,” said Finch.

This week in Normandy, 38-year-old Finch’s dream has become reality as she prepares for the 10th jump of her parachuting career with the WWII Airborne Demonstration Team. It will occur on Thursday, June 6, marking the 80th anniversary of D-Day, and take place right outside of Graignes-Mesnil-Angot. It will be the third and final jump of her trip, following one that took place Monday, June 3 outside of the town of St. Marie-du-Mont and another she participated in on Tuesday, June 4 at Boutteville.

During her first jump of the week, she carried a photo of Al Mampre, a WWII veteran she met during her trip over in 2018. The two had met on the drop zone where Mampre had landed 74 years prior for Operation Market Garden, an Allied military operation fought in the German-occupied Netherlands. Since their meeting, Mampre has passed away, though Finch does all she can to honor his legacy and others.

Nicole Finch holds a photo of WWII veteran Al Mampre, to whom she dedicated her June 3 jump | Joe Glyda

“I think maybe it means a little more to me because my family [served]. It’s an honor to be able to continue to share the stories [of these veterans]. For instance, the veterans that I met in 2018, none of those guys are still alive. So being able to jump with Mr. Al’s picture in my pocket, and continuing to tell his story even after he’s passed, that is the most important part to me,” said Finch. “They were kids [during the war]. They were citizen soldiers. Can you imagine jumping out of an airplane in the dead of night at 16, 17? Some were even younger. They were dropping super low to the ground where they barely had time for their parachutes to open, or they were going 200 miles an hour. When they jumped out and hit the prop glass, they lost their aim and their weapons were literally falling to the ground, so [they landed] with no way to defend themselves. And then they were falling in the wrong place, scattered all over Normandy.

“People say to me, ‘You’re so awesome. You’re so brave.’ And I say, ‘No one’s going to be shooting at me. I know exactly where I’m landing. We’re going to be going at the exact speed that we need to and we’re dropping from the exact height that we need to be at.’ If you look at it that way, you’re like, well, I’m not really doing anything that special, you know what I mean?”

But on the contrary. It’s in those moments on a plane so high above the world, when Finch is fully decked out in her parachuting gear and preparing herself for a jump, that the importance of what she’s doing and the purpose behind it drowns out any fear, insecurities or self-doubt.

“Our planes have pictures of veterans in them. I get in the plane; the engines kick on and I always look at my watch and see that my heart rate is through the roof. I’m trying to calm myself down, get the adrenaline piped down a little bit, but once I look at those faces [in the pictures], it’s calming,” said Finch. “As an organization, our motto is ‘remember honor, serve,’ so we want to remember and keep their memories alive. This is probably the last big anniversary we’ll have with [these veterans], because when we go back for the 85th, they won’t be with us anymore. It is up to us to tell their stories.”

Even though she is surrounded by the thrill that is horse racing on a daily basis, there’s nothing quite as exhilarating or impactful as what she’s doing with the WWII Airborne Demonstration Team. Finch transformed a childhood curiosity into a fully-fledged passion as an adult and for her, there is no greater honor than to participate in the 80th anniversary of D-Day.

The post Spendthrift’s Nicole Finch Parachutes in Normandy on D-Day Anniversary to Honor WWII Veterans appeared first on TDN | Thoroughbred Daily News | Horse Racing News, Results and Video | Thoroughbred Breeding and Auctions.

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