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Thursday
Jun062019

D-Day pilot flies back to Normandy in same type of plane he flew 75 years ago

iStock(NORMANDY, France) -- Joe Enzminger craned his neck to the sky over Normandy, France, on Wednesday, waiting to see one of the 14 World War II-era Dakota planes carrying veteran Dave Hamilton, now in his mid-90s, on the same route he flew 75 years ago.

The plane, famously called "That’s All, Brother," led 800 planes -- including one that carried Hamilton -- across the English Channel on June 6, 1944.

The flight was much less stressful this week.

“Wonderful, wonderful flight!" Hamilton said. "We had a great time and they gave me the privilege of going in the cockpit, sitting in the right seat. ... We had a great trip."

Enzminger will fly the restored troop transport plane on Thursday, as an anniversary remembrance of the D-Day invasion is held near Omaha Beach with President Donald Trump in attendance.

"They did something great when they were young, and then everybody kind of forgot about them. And now we bring them back to life," Enzminger said. "We can’t do it for them, we can only make sure their memories don’t fade away, but this airplane we brought back, and hopefully 75 years from now, it will still be flying. I’ll be back in Normandy celebrating the 150th anniversary of the D-Day invasion."

Retired Lt. Col. Hamilton, who now lives in Prescott, Arizona, was barely out of high school when he dropped paratroopers into Normandy on D-Day. He is the last surviving pilot to drop pathfinder paratroopers, specialized units that were the first servicemen to parachute in and set up operations support on June 6, 1944.

Beyond the excitement of returning to the air, Hamilton remembered the sacrifice of the soldiers he dropped in French fields 75 years ago.

"[My feelings], they’re very nostalgic, the apple comes up quite often when I start thinking about things and tomorrow at Colleville, at the cemetery, is going to be tough for me," Hamilton said. "But I’ll make it, I’ll make it."

Getting the 75-year-old Dakota, the nickname for the Douglas C-47 Skytrain, back to its original state and all the way to Normandy was no small feat.

"After the war, the plane was sold to surplus and ended up in a boneyard in Wisconsin," said Enzminger.

Discovered by a historian in 2007, the Commemorative Air Force became aware of it eight years later and decided to acquire the aircraft.

After careful restoration, the plane flies like the day it was built. Every nut and every bolt has been  carefully checked out.

"If there's any doubt at all, it's been replaced," said Hank Coats, the director of the Commemorative Air Force, "so it flies like a brand new C-47."

The plane took a six-week trip, with four crews, in order to make it over to the U.K. It left from Oxford, Connecticut; went to Goose Bay, Newfoundland; Greenland; Iceland; and eventually Scotland.

"Twenty-six hours of flying, a lot over water, on an airplane that’s 75 years old," Enzminger said. "[It’s] quite a venture, once-in-a-lifetime deal."

For Hamilton, it's a second-in-a-lifetime deal. But even more than seven decades later, the memory is fresh.

"Seventy-five years doesn't seem that long when you're with this group," Hamilton said. "It's amazing, it brings everything back and yet it doesn't seem like it was that long ago."

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