In about four months, June 6th will mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day. The D-Day Squadron has been preparing for months to commemorate the day by returning to Normandy with a fleet of more than 20 restored Douglas Aircraft Company C-47s. D-Day Squadron was created by the non-profit Tunison Foundation, owner of the C-47 Placid Lassie. Placid Lassie was first discovered in a field in Covington, Ga., in 2000. Restoration began in 2010 and the plane returned to Normandy in 2014.
Executive Director of D-Day Squadron Moreno Aguiari describes the significance of the event, “D-Day Squadron will honor the citizen soldiers whose bravery and self-sacrifice led the Allies towards the liberation of France, and ultimately ended the devastating Second World War in Europe.” Aguiari also works as Marketing and Business Development Director for Warbird Digest from his office at DeKalb-Peachtree Airport.
It is all part of Daks Over Normandy, a flyover of more than 30 international aircraft and 250 paratroopers over the shores of Normandy this June. Daks is short for Dakota, the nickname of the C-47. Daks over Normandy begins June 2-5, 2019 at Duxford Airfield in England and continues June 4-9 at Caen Airport in Normandy.
Daniel McBride, who parachuted from a C-47 in 1944 will be among the veterans returning to Normandy to commemorate the momentous day. I spoke with Mr. McBride, who now lives in New Mexico, by telephone. He was 20 years old and living in Ohio when he enlisted in 1942. In October of 1942, he became part of the 101st Airborne Division, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, F Company.
His training began at Fort Bragg in North Carolina and continued in England. Three successful practice jumps included hitting a switch which allowed the rifle to be accessed as paratroopers jumped. However, conditions were quite different around midnight on June 5, 1944.
Mr. McBride describes what happened. “I was a sniper. The rifle was under the plane and I was in third position. The pilot flew into an area where there was a fog bank and the planes got separated. The pilot dove off to the side and zig zagged. When I left the plane, I looked up but saw the ground. My foot was caught in the chute. My ropes got caught in a tree and I slammed into the ground. I was knocked out cold.”
When Mr. McBride came to, he was in knee deep grass and couldn’t find his compass. It was one o’clock in the morning; no one else was around. He started walking in the direction he believed to be north. Around 4 a.m. bullets were coming at him from behind a tall hedgerow. He threw a grenade into the area behind the hedgerow and successfully hit his enemy. He was elated to run into one of his buddies later, saying they almost kissed each other they were so happy. Then, the two of them came across a Lieutenant of the 82nd Airborne. McBride asked, “Where are we?” The Lieutenant replied jokingly, “I think we are somewhere in Europe.”
After more walking and driving a car they ambushed, the group finally got back to where they should have landed to start with, near St. Martins. His company was part of the efforts to take the town of Caen and was in Normandy through the night of June 11. McBride was injured by a bullet to the arm and sent to a British Hospital.
McBride earned three purple hearts during World War II, being injured in Normandy and later in Holland and Bastogne. Of the 119 men in his squadron, only nine survived the war. He returned home in September of 1945. Today, McBride is the only survivor of F Company.
Ready and excited to return to Normandy, McBride went every year between 2012 and 2017, but missed 2018. He now has friends from around the world that he keeps in touch with and some he will see this June.
If you can’t make it to France this June, two C-47s (including the Placid Lassie) will be on display at World War II Heritage Days at the Atlanta Regional Airport-Falcon Field in Peachtree City, April 27-28. More details on this event are available at wwiidays.org.