About three months ago, I wrote about the D-Day Squadron and their plans to return to Normandy for the 75th anniversary of D-Day. A group of pilots will fly to Normandy in restored Douglas Aircraft C-47s. Veteran Daniel McBride, a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne who will be returning to Normandy for the anniversary, shared his story with me. Now I’ve had the opportunity to learn the story of another World War II veteran returning to Normandy, Dave Hamilton.
Moreno Aguiari, executive director of D-Day Squadron, has been keeping me up to date on the progress of their mission. He will be flying to Normandy in a historic DC-3 painted in the colors of Pan Am Airlines. Aguiari and I have met on occasion with our similar interests of the past life of DeKalb-Peachtree Airport as Camp Gordon and later as Naval Air Station Atlanta. Aguiari works as Marketing and Business Development director for Warbird Digest from his office at the local airport.
Pilots making the trip to Normandy and veteran Dave Hamilton were recently gathered for a webinar by Stephen Lashley, director of Communications of the D-Day Squadron. The upcoming event is “the largest formation of C-47s over Normandy that’s been seen since the war, in order to pay fitting tribute to veterans like Dave,” according to Lashley.
Hamilton recalled the days leading up to June 6, 1944. He flew a C-47 as part of the Pathfinders, specially trained to be the first to go in to Normandy. Around May 28th the base was sealed and no phone calls were allowed, both indications that something big was about to happen. Briefings began on June 1.
Hamilton’s D-Day crew consisted of an intelligence officer, co-pilot, radio operator, navigator and crew chief.
He described the flight: “We left our base and were flying at 1,200 to 1,500 feet going out…crossing the channel at 50 feet above the water to stay under the radar. We pulled up when we made our turn going into the peninsula to 1,000 to 1,200 feet and hit the cloud bank, which was completely unannounced. We were flying three ship formations to each drop zone. The boys in the 101st were a little bit ahead of us. They couldn’t report that the cloud bank was there. It’s too bad because it messed up a lot of things. I got separated from my lead plane and the left-wing plane. We dropped 45 seconds separate and didn’t know it. All of our troopers from our flight landed in drop zone T.
“We just dropped our troops, according to my navigator, right on the button at midnight. I hit the deck after they got all the static lines in and my co-pilot said you better lift your right wing, we are going to hit the steeple at Saint-Mere-Eglise Church. Which I didn’t think I wanted to go to church that badly.”
“We got back to England and had been hit by anti-aircraft. We lost a wing tip. When we landed the only way we could turn the engines off was to cut the gas. The crew and I were up in the cockpit waiting for the engines to starve, filling out the form 1s and writing a letter about the damage. Four days later the airplane flew again.”
Although the C-47 was damaged, it was repaired and able to fly again.
Dave Hamilton wore his World War II uniform for the webinar, saying “I wear with great pride my Parachute Pathfinder insignia on this sleeve, which is indicative of a Pathfinder aircraft commander, co-pilot, navigator or crew member.”
The D-Day Squadron’s return to Normandy is an amazing and historic tribute, especially with World War II veterans returning after 75 years. For more information on the D-Day Squadron, go to ddaysquadron.org or to their Facebook page. When the journey begins May 19, updates will be posted on Facebook.
E-mail Valerie at firstname.lastname@example.org.