Rendezvous with history: WWII planes flying to Normandy
Aboard Betsy's Biscuit Bomber — The restored C-47 World War II military plane flew in formation over the Hudson River under bright skies, flanked by other aircraft, passing the New York City skyline and Statue of Liberty — a picturesque sight, unlike the strife of 75 years ago.
On Sunday, the fleet of restored aircraft, known as the D-Day Squadron formed by the nonprofit Tunison Foundation, will depart from the Waterbury-Oxford Airport for Normandy, France, to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day, stopping along the way at refueling stations in Greenland, Iceland and Scotland that were used during the war.
The trip will culminate on June 6 with Daks over Normandy, a flyover of more than 30 international aircraft, which will drop 250 paratroopers in authentic Allied uniforms over the original 1944 drop zones.
On D-Day, now considered the beginning of the end of the war, troops from the Allied powers U.S., Great Britain and Canada arrived by land, air and sea on the shores of five separate beaches in Normandy to invade Nazi-occupied France, an operation two years in the making.
Not all of the restored C-47s flying from Oxford — considered the workhorse of air transport during the war — were present on D-Day. The C-47 now nicknamed "Betsy's Biscuit Bomber" for its participation in the Berlin Airlift in 1948, arrived after the Normandy landings. The aircraft served with the 9th Air Force in Europe, and later served with the Belgian, French and Israeli air forces.
Much money, planning and training have gone into the event, which serves both as a way to educate the public, particularly younger generations, on this significant time in history, and to honor the soldiers who took part, like retired Lt. Col. David Hamilton of the U.S. Army Air Force. He was among the first Americans to arrive in Normandy in the early hours of June 6, 1944.
"It felt familiar," Hamilton, 96, a World War II Pathfinder, said after flying in the C-47 nicknamed "D-Day Doll."
Hamilton was among the first Americans to arrive in Normandy, piloting one of the C-47s that dropped more than 13,000 paratroopers behind enemy lines on the eve of D-Day. He recalled arriving to a pitch-black sky with a full moon, and an "infamous cloud cover over the drop zones that couldn't be reported because of radio silence."
The magnitude of what Hamilton experienced didn't hit him until he was flying back home.
"I looked at the radar scope and it looked like you could walk almost from England to France," he said.
He called his crew to look and said, "remember this because this will give you some idea of the magnitude of what we've done."
Now, he said, what strikes him is "that I lived through it," he said.