John Sessions, chairman of the Historic Flight Foundation, was thrilled to see the more than 1,000 Mainers who came to experience the D-Day squadron of World War II-era planes stopping over in Presque Isle on their way to Europe.
“My father was a paratrooper and spent 35 days in combat as part of D-Day. I had to do it,” Sessions said.
A squadron of 11 C-47 planes landed at the Presque Isle International Airport on Sunday and greeted visitors with talks and tours before refueling and continuing to Europe for events commemorating the D-Day invasion of Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944. More than 425,000 Allied and German troops were killed and wounded during the 2-month-long Battle of Normandy that followed D-Day.
The event Sunday brought out large crowds who came to see the aircraft and talk with pilots and area military veterans, and it also helped mark the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Presque Isle Air Museum.
The museum, in a wing of the Presque Isle International Airport, features exhibits and information on the aviation history of Presque Isle, which hosted an Army air field and from 1940 to 1961 an Air Force base that served large numbers of combat planes during World War II.
The C-47s, also known as skytrains, were used extensively by the Allies during World War II for military transport. The planes also dropped thousands of Allied paratroopers into France on D-Day in what became a major turning point in the war.
Sessions pilots a Douglas DC-3, the civilian predecessor of the C-47s, and flies with the memory of his father, Myron Sessions, a sergeant in the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division who parachuted into German-occupied territory, behind Utah Beach, before the D-Day landing. Sessions’ father was wounded in the combat that lasted more than a month and later received a Purple Heart.
“We’re here to help tell the story of the history,” Sessions said.
“After the D-Day commemorations, we’re going on to Germany to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Berlin airlift,” Session said.
The Berlin airlift, during 1948 and 1949, brought supplies to the people of Soviet-occupied Berlin. Recalling that history, Sessions handed out pieces of candy attached to small parachutes to onlookers in Presque Isle in memory of another’s actions during the war.
Col. Gail Halvorsen started the effort when he “saw West Berlin kids at the end of the runway as they were taking off and he was always impressed by two things: how happy they were even though they were skinny and whenever he threw something in their direction, like a stick of gum, they always shared it,” Sessions said.
“So he wrote a letter in a national U.S. newspaper, and the whole country started sending him chocolate and little homemade parachutes. Then every time he took off he dropped candy to them and soon all the pilots were doing it.”
This story was originally published in The County.