Builder, 80, Reenacts Daring D-Day Jump
On June 6, retired home builder Ralph Manley, 80, reenacted his courageous parachute jump into Normandy, France, as part of the 60th anniversary celebration of the historic D-Day invasion of World War II.

Despite the passage of time, the 101st Airborne Division uniform Manley donned as a 20-year-old still fit him perfectly. But there are significant differences between this jump and the one he performed on D-Day. This time it was in broad daylight and, as he points out, “nobody will be shooting at me.”

Sixty years ago over Normandy, the C-47 transport plane Manley parachuted from was burning from enemy fire. He jumped at 12:23 a.m., successfully landing behind enemy lines, loaded down with 417 pounds of gear and munitions, including a flamethrower and 50 pounds of explosives. “We had to take all the things we might need with us,” Manley says. A demolitions expert, Manley and his fellow soldiers kept German reinforcements from reaching the Normandy beachhead. They mined key intersections, disrupted communications, disabled German pillboxes and prepared bridges for demolition. Manley was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for his service and valor that day. During the course of the war, he was wounded six times and earned two more Purple Hearts before returning to the States in November 1945.

After the war, Manley attended Drury College in his hometown of Springfield, MO, on the G.I. Bill, married his wife, Jayne, and became a builder-slowly, the way it was done in the late ’40s. “I wanted to build my own home, and after it was finished, someone wanted to buy it,” Manley says. So he sold it for $1,500 and built another. “I would sell it and build another. That’s what we did then,” he says.

The business grew. By the time he retired five years ago, Ralph K. Manley & Company had developed 18 subdivisions and built 2,000 homes, mostly single-family, but also duplexes and apartments. “In my biggest year, we built 100 homes,” he says. Along the way, two of his three daughters followed him into the business. Now, they both have their own building companies. “If I were a young man today just out of college, I’d do the same thing all over again,” Manley says. Though Manley is retired from the industry, he is still very active. He has been a member of the Springfield city council for five years and currently serves as the mayor pro tem. “I’ve been on the zoning and planning commission and I’ve helped with the building codes,” Manley said. “You want to be able to contribute.”