OXFORD — Volunteers with the D-Day Squadron left Waterbury-Oxford Airport on May 19, flying 15 C-47s across the ocean and joining sister airplanes from Europe and Australia to participate in Daks Over Normandy, a flyover that will drop 250 paratroopers on the Normandy shore tomorrow, Thursday, June 6. The event will commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day and honor the veterans who participated in the invasion while educating future generations in a way that will bring history to life.
Those who jump from the planes will wear authentic Allied uniforms and use World War II military-style parachutes.
Matthew Jalowiec of Cheshire, who will be one of the paratroopers, told Voices, “I’m proud to do it.”
Mark Castiglione of Branford will carry his father’s dog tags when he lands in the same jump zone used by his father, Frank B. Castiglione, on D-Day.
The flyover will coordinate the largest assembly of equipment since June 6, 1944. Members of the D-Day Squadron spent the week of May 12 to May 19 based at Waterbury-Oxford Airport to practice formations and make preparations for the journey.
Veterans Capt. Pete Goutiere, 104 years old, who flew 680 missions over China, Burma, and India and Lt. Col. Dave Hamilton, 97, who was one of 20 C-47 Pathfinder pilots, were also at the airport to describe history as they very clearly remembered it.
When asked if he was fearful as he flew toward the beaches, Lt. Col. Hamilton said there was little time to be anything but anxious because of all the work to be done and he concentrated on getting the paratroopers to their drop zones.
“It was a relief to get rid of them,” he said of the work before acknowledging that the flight crew knew each man dropping into France and keenly aware of the danger ahead of them.
The planes flew low to avoid radar and Mr. Hamilton described, “We had $100,000 worth of airplane and $500,000 worth of navigation equipment. We had enough radar to start a business.”
For the anniversary flight across the North Atlantic, the planes will carry the latest technology.
Eric Zipkin, president of the Tunison Foundation, which was created to organize and support living history events via airworthy, historic aircraft, expressed amazement at what veterans were able to accomplish with limited resources; “We’ll have 10 times the power in a tenth of the space.”
The planes participating in the anniversary trip include 10 that flew during World War II and five that are veterans of D-Day.
According to Pilot David Brothers of Carlsbad, Calif., the C-53 named D-Day Doll that he flies, and her sister planes are unsung heroes of the war, ferrying supplies through danger without any weapons as a defense. “It wasn’t glamourous work, but it was essential.”
To pull together this trip, the planes went through various stages of restoration. C-47A-15-DK 42-92847 – That’s All, Brother – N47TB was sitting in a boneyard only five years ago, a derelict hulk of metal that now flies reliably.
Support for the trip has been strong and each airplane and crew has enough resources to make the trip with spare parts and access to a spare engine to avoid delays along the way.
Sponsors from the aviation community offered support in the way of fuel discounts, hanger space and boxes of candy that will be used to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the lifting of the Soviet blockade.
The Jelly Belly candy company made reproductions of the tiny parachutes attached to sweets that volunteers had sewed and dropped into West Berlin to feed hungry children in Operation Little Vittles.
“The good thing about a two-engine plane that can fly well on one is that we’ll make dry land. But, we’re still carrying enough life rafts and will test our immersion suits.” Mr. Zipkin added that not all planes are outfitted for comfort and he expects some crew members to use sleeping bags to stay warm.
Considering the question of who is interested in this history, Mr. Zipkin noted that all generations have expressed their support, including younger generations. “My copilot isn’t even old enough to drink yet,” he said. “There is a spark of interest when anyone hears these stories and we want to make sure those stories aren’t’ lost.”
An educational component has been added to the D-Day Squadron’s efforts, documenting the flight and the history behind it to share with students at dday75forstudents.com.
Judy Miller, cofounder of Student News Net, said, “Kids are thirsty for this knowledge and interested in everything, including the weather charts used to plan the invasion.”
Following the events in France, the planes will continue on to Germany, Italy and England to take part in remembering and honoring additional milestones such as the 70th anniversary of the Berlin airlift.
One of the planes, Miss Montana to Normandy, will participate in a third anniversary event, the commemoration of the Mann Gulch fire that was reported on August 5, 1949, in Montana.
The plane was finished in 1944, too late to join the fight overseas, and was purchased in 1946 as military surplus to drop 13 to 18 smoke jumpers per flight over Montana, fighting fires for more than two decades.
Several of the paratroopers that will partake in the D-Day commemorative jumps will be men and women who now work as smokejumpers.
Jack Micknak of Beacon Falls was particularly happy to see the plane arrive in Oxford because that is where his uncle, Don Micknak grew up. “When he was a kid, Oxford Airport was just a farm.”
Don Micknak left Connecticut for Montana in 1960 and worked as a mechanic on the plane throughout her years fighting fires; at age 87, he returned to the plane to volunteer his services following her restoration.
The plane had been a static display for 18 years before the D-Day Squadron’s mission sparked interest in her.
In addition to pilots and crew, several re-enactors participated in the week-long activities leading up to the takeoff, including Mark Wilson from Redding, Pa.
He said that reenactors participate at schools, air shows, parades and other events to help members of the public learn about World War II by answering questions and describing details such as the purpose of a triangle of material worn on the shoulder.
The material, and often the star emblem on vehicles, was treated with a special substance that would blister to indicate the presence of hazardous chemicals such as mustard gas, alerting the wearers to don gas masks and perhaps save lives.
Uniforms were sewn with extra flaps of material in sleeves to block air flow and pants were billowed at the ankle so that the only exposed skin was the face.
Troops landing in France were unsure if the enemy intended to implement chemical warfare.
When it became apparent that was not a threat, many soldiers boiled uniforms to remove the stiff, waxy substance in which they had been dipped in order to make the clothing more comfortable to wear.
“Even in black and white photographs, you can see the uniforms are lighter in color days after D-Day because of the boiling,” said Steve Raccio of West Haven.
The pockets of the uniforms were filled with weapons, food and equipment because those jumping behind enemy lines knew they could not expect to receive supplies.
Re-enactors are history buffs and men and women who appreciate the sacrifices made by a previous generation.
“When I talk with veterans, I don’t see a senior citizen. I see someone who could take this building apart. It’s a privilege to be born in America and I thank them for preserving our way of life,” said Mr. Raccio, who is eager to describe what he knows as he leads tours at the West Haven Veterans Museum and Learning Center.
Conor Regan of Northford described, “It’s not just history we’re talking about. There are many advances that came out of World Wars I and II. It’s said that soldiers rode in on horses before the fighting began and came out in planes.”
More information is available at www.ddaysquadron.org and Facebook, including a video of the speeches given by Capt. Goutiere and Lt. Col. Hamilton during a reception at Oxford Airport.
Voices reader Bernie Meehan, Jr., of Roxbury accompanied Voices reporter Linda Zukauskas on her visit to the D-Day Squadron at Waterbury-Oxford Airport and kindly shared with us the pictures that accompany this article.