ASOM Brings Local D-Day Stories to Life Through New Interactive Exhibit

Recently, the U.S. Army Airborne and Special Operations Museum (ASOM) opened its new temporary exhibit titled “D-Day: Freedom From Above.” This exhibit allows visitors to experience the Normandy Invasion through the eyes of the 82d and 101st Airborne Divisions using Histopad, an augmented reality technology.  

Among the interactive elements of the “D-Day: Freedom From Above” exhibit, visitors will also find artifacts that once belonged to local veterans. These pieces were carefully chosen by ASOM Curator, Jimmie Hallis, through a specific selection process. To be displayed in the exhibit, each artifact had to be related to D-Day and also had to have a connection with the 82d or 101st Airborne Divisions.  

Mr. Hallis stated, “I like artifacts to connect to a story, especially when that story hits close to home…If I can tie it to the local community, it makes it really interesting.”  

One local veteran featured in the exhibit is Private Robert W. Ryals who was a member of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3d Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment. A North Carolina native, born in Fayetteville, Ryals resided in Southern Pines until his death on February 7, 2011. He survived combat in Normandy, Holland, and the Battle of the Bulge, later retiring as a Command Sergeant Major. Visitors of the “D-Day: Freedom From Above” exhibit can view Ryals’ parachutist coat and garrison cap that he wore during the Normandy invasion.  

Another artifact showcased in the exhibit is a wedding dress cut from Sergeant Eugene Deibler Jr.’s reserve parachute after his jump into Normandy with the 101st Airborne Division. Deibler cut half of his parachute with his jump knife and stored it in his musette bag throughout the campaign. The parachute was given a second life when he mailed it home to his future bride, Mary Smith of Lemon Springs, North Carolina.  
Miss Smith made the fabric into her wedding gown, promising to marry Deibler if he returned home from the war. On December 22, 1945, a week after his return to Lemon Springs, the two exchanged vows, fulfilling this promise. The couple then honeymooned in Southern Pines.  

“My ultimate goal for the artifacts is to inspire people with these stories who may be interested in donating to the Museum,” stated Mr. Hallis. 

Visitors can learn more local stories by touring the “D-Day: Freedom From Above” exhibit, on display at the ASOM through March 14, 2022. The Museum is open on Veterans Day, November 11, 2021. Admission is free, however there is a $5 rental fee for the HistoPad.  

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