War Bird Set To Make Triumphant Return To Normandy

GENESEO, NY - Hours before the first troops departed their landing crafts and stormed the beach at Normandy, Allied paratroopers had already been dropped behind the enemy lines in the predawn darkness of D-Day, on June 6th 1944.

Most of them were dropped from C-47 transport planes, very few of which survive today.

One in particular, however, named Whiskey-7, has been part of the collection at the National Warplane Museum for the past six years although, when she was first acquired museum officials did not know that she had actually taken part in Normandy invasion.

"We developed that information as we started looking into the records of the airplane," said Austin Wadsworth, the museum's President.

Then, a few year ago, musuem officials were stunned when contacted by personnel from Ramstein Air Base in Germany, which serves as headquarters for the U. Air Force in Europe, and which with the French Government, was coordinating ceremonies to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-day invasion.

"They saw what we had and they told us they'd love to get us to participate in the anniversary," recalled Dawn Schaible, the museum's Director of Planning and Government Affairs. "We thought, well...that's a really cool idea, but it's also a very big idea."

For one thing, while she regularly delights crowd at airshows throughout the U.S., Whiskey 7, as she was configured, was in no shape to make an Atlantic crossing, lacking among other things the modern navigational equipment required .

They figured it would a quarter million dollars.

But how could they say no?

"It's important to realize the majority of the men and women that served during D-Day either aren't here any more, or are not going to be here for very long, so our time is limited to give them the honor and respect that is due to them," Schaible told WGRZ-TV.

"The the rest of it was to try and figure out hos to get the money to do it," added Wadsworth.

They began reaching out for donations, from members of the public, who for as little as $6 could contribute by buying a gallon of gas for the plane, and for which donations are still being accepted.

They also began working on corporate sponsors, a number of whom in the aviation field, stepped up. to the plate, contributing not only avionics and other communication instruments, but also donating the labor to install them.

"That was what brought it within the financial reach for us," said Schaible.

"This is very emotional for me because I really am so honored to be able to fly a piece of living history," said Naomi Wolcott-Wadsworth, who is one of a team of four pilots who will conduct the transatlantic flight being broken up over several days, and during the commemorative drops over Normandy featuring members of the Liberty Jump Team.

"The pilots and the people who jumped out of this airplane during the second world war, and the crews that managed them were very brave people...and I feel very honored to be able to represent this airplane around the country and now around the world. It's returning her to her days of glory and to the most significant part of her history. Going back to Normandy to celebrate this 70th anniversary is incredibly important and very moving," Wolcott-Wadsworth said.

While she and the others involved in the mission can only image what it was like for those brave young paratroopers who lead the invasion, Leslie Palmer Cruise can do more than that.

A resident of Pennsylvania, he is the last known surviving member of the group of more than 20 men who jumped from Whiskey 7 during the wee hours of June 6th, 1944.

Cruise, who just celebrated his 90th Birthday, will also be in France to participate in several commemorative events as part of the mission, watching safely -- this time -- from the ground.

"The fact that we have actual people involved that jumped out of this airplane that are gonna be at that ceremony, will make it very special for us," said Wadsworth.

After two years of preparation, Whiskey 7 will depart from a grass field in Geneseo, with a big send off on May 15th.

"It' going to be emotional," said Schaible. "It's going to be a commencement."

"We stared out as kind of a lark," recalled Wadsorth. "This was gonna be fun to go over there and drop paratroopers, and now it's turned into something much more significant, and much more meaningful for us. We're doing this to honor veterans, both the ones who are still alive and the ones who aren't, and we figure it's a great privilege."

Click on the video player to watch our story from 2 On Your Side Reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalist Scott May. Follow Dave on Twitter: @DaveMcKinley2


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