Portfolio: D-Day airplane to re-create its run at Normandy fete

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GENESEO, N.Y. -- The next time the American military transport plane known as Whiskey 7 drops its paratroopers over Normandy, France, it will be for a commemoration instead of an invasion.

Seventy years after taking part in D-Day, the plane now housed at the National Warplane Museum in western New York is being prepared to recreate its role in the mission, when it dropped troops behind enemy lines under German fire.

At the invitation of the French government, the restored Douglas C-47 will fly in for 70th-anniversary festivities and again release paratroopers over the original jump zone at Sainte-Mere-Eglise.

"There are very few of these planes still flying, and this plane was very significant on D-Day," said Erin Vitale, chairwoman of the Return to Normandy Project. "It dropped people that were some of the first into Sainte-Mere-Eglise and liberated that town."

Museum officials say the twin-prop Whiskey 7, so named because of its W-7 squadron marking, is one of several C-47s scheduled to be part of the D-Day anniversary, with jumpers made up of active and retired military personnel. But it is believed to be the only one flying from the United States.

The plane will fly to France by way of Labrador, Greenland, Iceland, Scotland and Germany, each leg 5½ to 7 hours. Ms. Vitale compared it to trying to drive a 70-year-old car across the country without a breakdown.

Among the 21 men it carried in 1944 was 20-year-old Leslie Palmer Cruise Jr., who also will make the return trip to France, his fifth, and be reunited with the craft -- once it's on the ground. He will fly commercially.

"With me, it's almost, sometimes, like yesterday," said Mr. Cruise, now 89.

Although the C-47 looks much the same today as it did on June 6, 1944, it looked very different when it arrived at the museum as a donation eight years ago. It had been converted to a corporate passenger plane.

Mr. Cruise still remembers being squashed between other paratroopers as the plane left England's Cottesmore Airdrome. He was weighed down with probably 100 pounds of gear, including an M-1 rifle that was carried in three pieces, 30-caliber rifle ammo, K-rations and his New Testament in his left pocket, over his heart.

"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," Mr. Cruise wrote in an account of the mission. "If we had any doubts before about the certainty of the invasion, they were dispelled now."


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