Early Monday morning the 5th of June, 1944 the men of E(asy) Company 2nd Battalion / 506th PIR of the 101st Airborne Division, dressed in full combat gear were briefed by their Battalion Headquarters Captain. They received their Final Operations Order outlining the Airborne drops to support the Normandy landings. Then it was off to the staging area so that they could “hurry up and wait” to board the Douglas C-47 Skytrain aircraft for their flight into the history books. A little more than 24 hours later, during the early morning hours of June 6 they did just that.
“Operation Albany” was the Airborne Delivery Plan for the 101st Airborne Division. The men of E(asy) Company were assigned to a flight of nine C-47 aircraft (Serial 12 as it was called). Each aircraft contained eighteen men and was flown in three “V” formations. Their departure time for the two-hour and ten minute flight from England to the Drop Zone St. Marie-du-Mont, was set for 22:15 on the 5th of June. Once airborne, the C-47’s flight level was at 1000 feet. They would drop to 500 feet over the Cotentin Peninsula and once dear their designated DZ would climb to the “Jump Altitude” between 700 – 850 feet. The aircraft would slow down to approximately 80 MPH for the jump!
This July 8th I had the privilege to be a participant and experience what those young men of our “Greatest Generation” experienced… suiting up in 82nd and 101st Airborne Division combat fatigues, receiving a mission briefing, lining up to board a C47 Skytrain that was a participant in Operation Overlord (and later Operation Market Garden both with the Royal Air Force)!
I met and had a wonderful history discussion with Captain F.H (Rod) Rogers (US Army, Retired) who lead the group of us participants and re-enactors, who were dressed in full combat jump gear, for the 45 minute flight from the American Airpower Museum located at the far end of Republic Airport (FRG), Farmingdale, NY. As we anxiously awaited our turn as we were the third and final flight of the day my mind wandered to the events of the pre-dawn hours of June 6, 1944. My adrenalin was flowing and I couldn’t help but think that 70 plus years ago those brave men who were lined up as I had the same if not more anticipation.
Before we boarded the aircraft we sounded off with our jump order number, I was second to jump and sounded off with “2 Good to Go”! Upon entering I couldn’t help but notice how thin the skin of the interior was and thought about how easy enemy bullets must have passed through the 20 or so unlucky C-47’s to be shot down during those historic pre-dawn hours. We sat in our designated seats and shortly thereafter began to taxi to the runway.
With the engines at full throttle, we began the departure and in no time were airborne on that hot and sunny Saturday afternoon. While over the south shore of Long Island, the re-enactment began. The ten of us along with our re-enactors stood at “attention” and lined up for our simulated jump. One by one we gave the “Good to Go” sound off and proceeded to walk towards the closed cargo doors. I’d be lying if I said that I was not nervous as I was! “Here’s to history” I thought to myself while simulating clamping the parachute hook to the line.
As we eased out of the simulation we all agreed that this was a true thrill and honor to take part in. We chatted amongst ourselves, with the re-enactors, quartermaster, jump captain as well as visiting the pilots in the cockpit. We took photos and videos of the scenery both outside and inside of the aircraft. And with a few turns and picturesque banks of the wings, we were headed back towards Republic for the end of our journey.
I will remember this experience for as long as I live, and have a greater respect for our military personell who “suit up” every day while protecting the people of these great United States.
For more information about the when next C-47 Flight Experience will be back at the American Airpower Museum at Republic Airport in Farmingdale please visit www.americanairpowermuseum.org.