A restored U.S. military transport plane will travel back to Normandy to recreate its role in the largest seaborne invasion in military history in celebration of the 70th anniversary of D-Day.
Currently housed at the National Warplane Museum in New York, the restored Douglas C-47 has been called on by the French government to reenact the role it played exactly 70 years when it risked heavy enemy fire to drop U.S. soldiers behind enemy lines.
The plane’s passengers will be composed of active and retired military personnel who will be dropped over Sainte-Mere-Eglise, the Associated Press reported.
“There are very few of these planes still flying, and this plane was very significant on D-Day,” Erin Vitale, chairwoman of the Return to Normandy Project, told the AP. “It dropped people that were some of the first into Sainte-Mere-Eglise and liberated that town.”
Although Whiskey 7 will be one of several C-47s scheduled to participate in the D-Day festivities, the AP reported that it will be the only one flying all the way from the United States.
The plane will get to France by way of Labrador, Greenland, Iceland, Scotland and Germany. Each trip is expected to take roughly six hours.
“It’s going to be a huge challenge,” Vitale said, adding that it will be like driving a 70-year-old car across America.
Leslie Palmer Cruise Jr., 89, who was part of the C-47’s original crew of paratroopers in 1944, will also make the journey to France to participate in the anniversary activities and be reunited with the aircraft that dropped him behind enemy lines.
“With me, it’s almost, sometimes, like yesterday,” Cruise told the AP. He said D-Day was his first combat mission. “It really never leaves you.”
Cruise will be traveling separately from Philadelphia.
The 89-year-old veteran once wrote about the night of the invasion, being jammed inside the C-47 with other paratroopers and being weighed down with at least 100 pounds of gear, including an M-1 rifle, 30-caliber rifle ammo, grenades, K-rations and a copy of the New Testament.
“We could hear the louder roar as each plane following the leader accelerated down the runway and lifted into the air,” he wrote. “Our turn came and the quivering craft gathered momentum along the path right behind the plane in front.”
He recalled the roar of the C-47’s engines being so loud that you had to scream to be heard by the soldier sitting next to you. He also remembered the faint images he saw through he plane’s windows.
“In the partial darkness below we could make out silhouetted shapes of ships and there must have been thousands of them all sizes and kinds,” Cruise wrote. “If we had any doubts before about the certainty of the invasion, they were dispelled now.”
When the C-47 first arrived at museum in New York as a donation, it looked nothing like it did in the 1940s. It had been converted to a corporate passenger plane. So the staff at the museum got to work restoring the plane to its previous WWII condition.
“We had to take an executive interior out,” said W. Austin Wadsworth, the museum’s president. “It had a dry bar, lounge seats, a table with a nice map of the Bahamas in there. It was beautiful.”
The restoration project has already cost roughly $180,000, with most of the money going toward the plane’s engines. The plane will be flown back to France by five pilots, including Wadsworth’s daughter, Naomi, and her brother Craig.
(H/T: Weasel Zippers)
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