Seventy years ago, the Douglas C-47 warplane, currently hibernating in the hanger of Geneseo’s National Warplane Museum, was soaring over the beaches of Normandy; dropping members of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment during D-Day. And on May 15, this plane – dubbed Whiskey 7 after its W-7 squadron marking – will depart once again for the beaches of Normandy. This time, it will be participating in a commemoration of D-Day’s 70th anniversary.
The plane first came to Geneseo eight years ago when it was donated to the museum. It arrived at the airfield repainted and remodeled into a sort of luxury aircraft – nothing like the bare-bones military transport plane used in World War II.
“We didn’t realize what we had at first,” Director of Planning and Government Affairs Dawn Schaible said. “It wasn’t until we started doing some research that we realized the full historical context and just how awesome this plane is.”
Museum volunteers put extensive effort into restoring the plane to its original condition, making it one of the very few air-worthy C-47s that served in the D-Day invasion. It has since appeared in airshows and services across the country, although Schaible says that the commemoration in Normandy will be its biggest event to date.
The event, however, did not come cheap: In order to prepare the plane for its return to Normandy, the museum had to raise $250,000. Schaible said it was important to send the plane regardless of cost, both for the sake of its history and for the community that owns it.
“We consider it a privilege to be the caretaker of the W-7, and with that privilege comes an obligation to honor the veterans,” Schaible said.
Fundraising turned out to be a joint effort, with support pouring in from the community and from people who had taken a genuine interest in the plane. The museum sold commemorative flag plaques and accepted donations toward gas for the trip, no matter how big or small.
“We tried to make it so everyone could be included, whether they were giving $6 or $1,000,” Schaible said.
The museum also received considerable support from commercial sponsors and even a $1,000 donation from the local Letchworth Central School Foreign Language Club.
The plane will be taking the tokens of its New York State community when it flies to Normandy next month. On board the plane will be American and New York State flags as well as letters of commendation from New York Sen. Lee Zeldin. Veteran Leslie Palmer Cruise, Jr. The last surviving Whiskey 7 paratrooper from the Normandy invasion, will also be on board.
At the commemorative service, the plane will reenact the Normandy landing with the Liberty Jump Team and Palmer Cruise will lay a wreath on the grave of his fallen comrades. Prior to arriving in France, the plane will visit several other countries including Greenland, Iceland, Scotland and Germany, and will participate in an airshow in Duxford, England.