C-47 that dropped paratroopers on D-Day touches down in Orange

  • “Whiskey 7,” a C-47 that dropped paratroopers during the Allied invasion of Normandy in World War II, flew into the Orange Municipal Airport Friday and will stay the weekend. STAFF PHOTO/DAVID MCLELLAN

  • “Whiskey 7,” a C-47 that dropped paratroopers during the allied invasion of Normandy in World War II, flew into the Orange Municipal Airport Friday and will stay the weekend. STAFF PHOTO/DAVID MCLELLAN

Staff Writer
Published: 5/17/2019 11:11:02 PM
Modified: 5/17/2019 11:10:49 PM

ORANGE — It was June 6, 1944, and thousands of paratroopers huddled in C-47s flying above Normandy, France, waiting for their signal to jump.

It was the allied invasion of Normandy in World War II, and the signal they waited for was a small light — a red light in the fuselage of those hulking metal war birds that, once it flicked green, would be the go-ahead to jump into the black of night.

It was hours before the first amphibious landings on Normandy’s beaches, D-Day, the largest seaborne invasion in history and part of the effort to liberate France from the Nazis’ grip. But more than 6,000 paratroopers from the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division were already at work, jumping from C-47s and beginning the allied assault.

“Look up in the skies, ladies and gentlemen — that is a veteran of the Second World War,” a man’s voice blared through a megaphone across the fields at Orange Municipal Airport.

Coming up on the 75th anniversary of one of World War II’s most monumental assaults, which claimed hundreds of lives and ended in an allied victory, the famed plane “Whiskey 7” touched down at Orange Municipal Airport Friday, and will stay through the weekend for the Massachusetts Military History Expo.

The plane, a Dakota C-47, was the lead plane in the second wave of “Mission Boston,” the airborne landing component of the Normandy invasion in 1944. The 1943-built plane, Army green and adorned with its “W7” call sign, circled the airport several times before landing.

“When the government was selling and scrapping off these planes, they looked at the flight logs and found this plane was way too special to get rid of,” said Dan Eaton, Massachusetts Military History Expo organizer. “This plane is our star attraction.”

Whiskey 7 usually resides at the National Warplane Museum in Geneseo, N.Y., but is periodically featured at events throughout the country.

The plane has been restored and kept in its World War II configuration, Eaton said. Knowing its history and flying in it, he said, is an unforgettable experience.

“When you sit in the seats and you turn around toward the back door, look up, you actually see the lights they were looking at, the green and red,” Eaton said.

Eaton said he couldn’t imagine the feelings of those who jumped from the plane during war.

“It was dark, you’re not looking at the target, and when the light went green, you jump,” he said.

Compared to modern planes, Eaton said being inside the old C-47 is humbling, especially given its status during the world’s largest-ever conflict.

“It’s very humbling,” he said. “You’re in it, you feel it shaking, you can see the cracks.”

A large crowd had gathered to see Whiskey 7 land, marking the first day of the history expo.

Earl Cooley sat wearing his veterans cap and watched the plane as it looped back around on the airport’s runway, once more passing the crowd and giving everyone a closer look.

Cooley, 94, is a veteran of World War II who served in the North African campaign. And as he was a crew chief on a C-47 himself, the occasion was particularly special.

“They used them for everything,” Cooley said, emphasizing the versatility of the C-47. “When they jumped out of planes in Europe, it was all C-47s.”

Indeed, C-47s were used throughout Europe, Africa and Asia during the struggle against German, Italian and Japanese forces.

Whiskey 7 will remain on site at the Orange Municipal Airport, South Main Street, for onlookers this weekend.

The Massachusetts Military History Expo, which featured World War I trench warfare reenactments in Orange last summer, will feature World War II battle reenactments, showcase authentic World War II era equipment and vehicles, and offer food and other vendors on Saturday and Sunday at the airport.

Reach David McLellan at dmclellan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 268.

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