Museum plans to return historic plane to Normandy for D-Day commemoration

Published: Jan. 9, 2014 at 5:58 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 19, 2014 at 5:58 PM EST
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Vintage WWII C47 being prepared for Return to Normandy
Vintage WWII C47 being prepared for Return to Normandy

Inside a hangar on a small airstrip in western New York, a World War II veteran is being prepared to return to Normandy for the 70th commemoration of D-Day.

The National Warplane Museum in Geneseo, NY, is home to Whiskey 7, a C47 that carried paratroopers across the English Channel to their mission of liberation.

"To actually have something that survived from World War II that was instrumental in ending the war, and to be able to have this plane in our museum with the volunteers who have worked on it is astounding," said Crew Chief Mike Lindsay.

In the more than two decades Lindsay has volunteered with the museum, he's seen a lot of war birds come and go. But Whiskey 7 is his favorite.

"The rate at which these planes were scrapped after the war was phenomenal and to be able to have it here 70 years later, from its most important mission it ever had, is just astounding," he said.

The museum plans to fly Whiskey 7 to Normandy in June for the 70th commemoration of D-Day.

"It's a tribute to the paratroopers that jumped out of this , to everyone involved in the Normandy invasion who's no longer with us," said Lindsay. "It's a living tribute to them.  To show there's people who care enough to make sure this plane gets back there to reenact the jumps.  I can't think of a better way to show our respect to the Greatest Generation."

Lindsay says the plane is a tangible history lesson to kids whose only knowledge of WWII is a few paragraphs in a textbook.

"To be able to walk up and say, 'You can look at it.  You can touch it.  You can climb on board.  You can play with the controls' and to be able to take this around the country and show people, the significance of having it is just priceless to us," said Lindsay.

You might think the story of this historic war bird is the 3,608-mile journey it will take across the Atlantic Ocean in June.  But the real story is about two neighbors who didn't realize their connection involving the plane.

The father of Lindsay's longtime neighbor, Jan Wiseley, maintained the plane during WWII, and kept a meticulous diary of his wartime service. His name was Capt. Robert Uhrig. Uhrig's diary kept a log of all the "ships," as he called them, for which he was responsible.  Whiskey 7's tail number appears in Uhrig's diary.

Although Lindsay knew Wiseley for 35 years, it was the man who compiled Uhrig's diary into a book called Invasion Stripes, Lt. Col. (Ret. USAF) Brian Duddy, who told him of the connection.

"Brian had said something to me, ‘Oh yeah, there's a woman, her name's Jan Wiseley, her father was on this airplane.' I said, ‘Wait a minute here, Jan Wiseley?' He says, ‘Yeah, she lives over in Castile.' I says, ‘Yeah, she lives on the back side of my property.  I know who she is.' If it wouldn't have been for Brian, we would still have gaps in our history."

So from Patterson Field in Ohio, to Sicily, England and France, Whiskey 7 found a home 25 miles from Uhrig's daughter.

"I just couldn't believe that many years living next to her and she couldn't, either," said Lindsay.  "Then once she realized we had the plane here and confirmed that her father was attached to this airplane…it all just exploded."

"It's kind of amazing," said Duddy. "It's literally a million-to-one shot.  You can imagine how many C47s were built during the war, how many were lost in combat, how many survived the war and then went to civilian uses.  How many stayed in the Air Force and went to Southeast Asia and didn't survive.  You think of how those numbers have been whittled down over the years to the few surviving C47s that are still flyable and to have one in Geneseo that was basically the one assigned to his squadron for a good portion of the war, that's pretty amazing.  It's like winning the lottery."

Lindsay and his crew used information in Uhrig's diary to work on it.

"His diaries and everything closed the gap in the history of the airplane we didn't have," he said. "A lot of the changes I've made to the airplane are stuff I read in her father's diaries to make it correct."

"It's just amazing to me to see it…to know what it did," he said.

Lindsay is confident the antique aircraft is mechanically sound for her 3,600-mile journey in June.

"I'm not worried about the plane making it there itself," he said.  However, the team needs $250,000 to cover travel expenses.

"We want to be able to do the jumps with the paratroopers.  We want to be able to take her around and show people," he said. "We don't want her sitting on the ground. We're going to make her work.  She's going to work just as hard as she did on D-Day.  We know she can do it."

As the men who flew her, jumped from her and cared for her pass on to more peaceful places, Whiskey 7 continues their legacy on earth.

"It's something that has to be done," he said.  "With the rate of the veterans that are passing away every year, we can't just let this die out.  We have to keep this going.  We have to keep it alive for future generations. To always say, 10, 20, 30 years from now, 'You have this, you can do this because of these gentlemen, these kids back then that risked their lives for our freedom.' I can't think of a better way to do it than to take this plane over there."

Uhrig and his unit trained at Shaw Field from October to November 1941. The 316th Troop Carrier Group participated in the Carolina Maneuvers along the North Carolina-South Carolina border, which included practice jumps for paratroopers.

Click here for more information and donation information about the Return to Normandy 2014.

Click here for more information about the book based on Uhrig's diary,  Invasion Stripes, by Lt. Col. Brian Duddy

Click here for more information about the National Warplane Museum.

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