MISSOULA – The planes and the paratroopers are older, but when the skies over the French coastal plane filled with the sounds and sights of parachutes falling through the cloudy skies, thousands cheered.
Right in the middle of the commemoration of the epic D-Day invasion is Miss Montana after more than a year of hard work and dreams — and that’s exactly when the volunteer crew was hoping for.
“And we started early, about 6 o’clock in the seats ready to go. We flew across the Channel with four other ships and joined up with a sixth at Cherbourg and picked up some jumpers,” Miss Montana to Normandy Project co-leader Bryan Douglass said on Wednesday.
“And then an early morning drop over Carentan, which was one of the US drop zones. And then we recovered back to Duxford and picked up our jumpers and made our way across the Channel again. So for the third time,” he added.
That last trip was truly an amazing site as Miss Montana and the other C-47s and DC-3s filled the darkening skies over the French coastline, where thousands gathered to watch the spectacle and imagine — just for a while — what June 6 means to the freedom of the Western World.
While the D-Day paratroopers used stealth and darkness, these “liberators” were greeted by children.
“We had our Montana jumpers on board and it was just so fun to see them because they’ve worked for this too, and prepared for it and spent time and money to get ready and helped us with the airplane,” Douglass said.
“And they’ve been part of this team from the beginning. And it was just great to see them. They were so excited. That excitement was contagious. We just couldn’t be happier to have completed this part of the mission,” he continued. “And now we get to do something else.”
At least one of the jumpers on Wednesday was a D-Day veteran, while others took places of honor in the cockpits of the old warbirds — vanishing reminders of the day when youthful pursuits took a backseat to valor.
“Well, you couldn’t help but think about the boys that were doing it 75-years ago. And we have GPS and iPhones on board, pretty darn good weather,” Douglass told MTN News. “And those guys were doing it at night, crude navigation instruments and getting shot at. So it was a reenactment but certainly not a reproduction.”
The first order of business is for Miss Montana on Thursday was to fuel up before security began shutting down the region for the formal D-Day ceremonies for Allied Leaders.
Douglass says Miss Montana was still scheduled to be among the dozen or so planes that will do the Presidential Flyover above Omaha Beach and the coastline where thousands of lives were lost.
Reporting by Dennis Bragg for MTN News