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Remembering D-Day 75 years later

  • Published
  • By Mark Wilderman
  • 375th Air Mobility Wing Historian

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- Just after 2 a.m. on June 6, 1944, over 800 C-47 Skytrain aircraft carrying approximately 13,000 Allied paratroopers spearheaded the liberation of Nazi-occupied Europe.

And, after 11 months of hard fighting, Nazi Germany surrendered unconditionally to the Allies. Today marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day, and our nation and our World War II allies are commemorating this significant event in world history in many ways.

Recently, the Air Mobility Command Museum at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, held a D-Day Commemoration event.  The event included two of the most historically significant Douglas C-47A Skytrain aircraft surviving from D-Day, the AMC Museum’s own “Turf and Sport Special” from the 314th Troop Carrier Group’s 61st Troop Carrier Squadron and “That’s All, Brother” from the 438th Troop Carrier Group’s 87th Troop Carrier Squadron.

“Turf and Sport Special led the second element of 18 C-47s in Serial 20, carrying paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division’s 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment to Drop Zone “N” near Ste. Mere Eglise in Normandy.

Two of the 17 paratroopers who jumped from “Turf and Sport Special” that night, George Schenkle and Joe Morettini, were present at the event and gave first-hand accounts of their experiences during Operation Neptune—the codename for the airborne segment of Operation Overlord—the Allied invasion of France. 

The Commemorative Air Force’s C-47A “That’s All, Brother” was the lead aircraft of the over 800 C-47s in Operation Neptune, carrying the 101st Airborne Division’s pathfinders to mark drop zones 30 minutes ahead of the main body of paratroopers.

The purpose of Operation Neptune was to secure the Allied landing beaches, allowing the infantry to break out of the beachheads and prevent German counterattacks against the amphibious forces.

A similar “D-Day+75” commemoration was held at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio on May 13 and will be held again on June 6, including an augmented reality exhibit. Still other commemorative events are planned in Britain and France in early June, including flyovers of the battle sites in Normandy by C-47A “That’s All, Brother.” 

Meanwhile, as the momentous events of D-Day were taking place in the European Theater of Operations, the U.S. and its allies were busy half a world away pushing back the forces of Imperial Japan in the Southwest Pacific.

One of the major airlift units involved in reconquering Japanese-occupied Pacific islands was the 375th Troop Carrier Group, the ancestor of today’s Scott AFB host wing, the 375th Air Mobility Wing.

Operating from Strip #1 at Nadzab, New Guinea, the 375 TCG had participated in the airborne assault that originally seized Nadzab from the Japanese on Sept. 5, 1943.  In June 1944, the 375th TCG had been in combat in the Southwest Pacific for 11 months and was commanded by Lt. Col. Joel G. Pitts. 

The Group consisted of Headquarters, 375 TCG and its four C-47-equipped flying squadrons: the 55th, 56th, 57th, and 58th Troop Carrier Squadrons with 288 officers (233 flying and 55 ground), 1,066 Enlisted men (270 flying and 796 ground), and 56 aircraft (54 Douglas C-47 Skytrains  and two Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses.  

During the June 1944, the 375th TCG carried 8,504,912 pounds of freight and personnel and flew 2,073 sorties, 1,196 planes, and 7,599 hours.

According to the 375th TCG historian in his June 1944 historical report, “The month of June saw nothing of an unusual nature transpire.” That was an understatement, as the number of planes flown that month had set a new record for the Group.

On June 21, the first 375th TCG C-47 landed on Owi Island and three days later Group aircraft landed on Biak Island for the first time. These two new airdromes in the Schouten Islands extended to 900 miles the area served by the Group.

Most of the combat freight and personnel airlifted in June was to Wakde, Hollandia, Tadji, Owi, and Biak, recently liberated from the Imperial Japanese. In addition, non-combat airlift missions were flown to Dobodura, Port Moresby, Merauke, Momote, Gusap, Lae, Faita, Dumpu, Mt. Hagen, Finchhafen, Saidor, Kiriwina, Goodenough, and Mokerang.   

Like today’s 375th AMW, several of the missions flown in June 1944 involved evacuation of wounded and ill personnel. The Group’s sole aircraft loss for the month was on June 10 when a C-47A from the 56th TCS experienced bad weather, ran out of fuel while attempting to land, and crash landed on Fisherman’s Island en route to Milne Bay.

The aircraft crash landed on the tiny Jackson Airstrip, resulting in serious injuries to three medical personnel and two patients, and minor injuries to the remaining crew, medics, and patients. 

The 375th TCG continued to support the Allied reconquest of Japanese-occupied islands in the Southwest Pacific, including the liberation of The Philippines, making its contribution to victory in the Pacific Theater.