PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — A gift from Presque Isle went“bearborne” to fly through European skies to help mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, June 6, 1944.
The D-Day Squadron, a group of 11 C-47 planes, landed at the Presque Isle International Airport on Sunday, May 19, and greeted visitors with talks and tours before refueling and continuing to Europe. As part of the world’s remembrance of the 75th anniversary, the squadron has an observer tagging along from Aroostook County: Private Presquey, a Teddy bear donated by the Presque Isle Historical Society.
Private Presquey is a World War II Memorial Stamp bear issued by the U.S. Postal Service in 2004. Presque Isle Historical Society President Craig Green donated the bear to the D-Day Squadron during its local layover.
The furry goodwill ambassador is traveling with the crew of a C-47 named the Pan Am Clipper, and is set to accompany a paratrooper jumping out of a plane over Normandy during events commemorating D-Day.
Presquey features in several posts on the D-Day Squadron’s Facebook page. The group has been filing “Private Presquey Mission Reports” as they make their way to Normandy, with dispatches from Iceland, the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The posts share history and tidbits about veterans, sprinkled with humor.
On May 23, the squadron introduced the bear in this post: “It is with extreme pleasure that we introduce you to Private Presquey, our mascot, who will travel with us to Normandy. You and your children can follow along with Private Presquey as he reports in on our mission from his point of view.”
Presquey’s May 29 report from the “Bear-borne Division” announced he was assigned to a brief respite of R&R. “They even assigned me my own bed! I’m currently enjoying a spot of tea with honey, of course, while I check on our other squadron mates still inbound from the US,” he said.
On June 2 came this report from Presquey in Duxford, Cambridgeshire, England, after meeting the Royal Air Force’s own teddy bear mascot: “I was beary excited to finally meet Sgt Hurri Cane, whose command is with the RAF Association here in the UK. We exchanged strategies, while we snacked on fresh berries and fish. We toasted with sparkling juice to our new bond between chaps from two different continents with the same mission, to following our command into serving our country and honoring those who served before us.”
And in Prestwick, Scotland, Private Presquey and the crew met with 98-year-old British Army Commando veteran Ron Wilson, who jumped during D-Day.
“This bear reports that talking with veterans is the best way to learn history,” according to the mission report. “I advise as an action item that everyone take the time to talk with veterans every time there is the opportunity.”
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944. The succesful invasion of Nazi-occupied France turned the tide and helped lead to the end of the war. About 4,400 Allied soldiers died on June 6, and more than 425,000 Allied and German troops were killed and wounded during the two-month-long Battle of Normandy that followed.
According to AmericanDDay.org, 24 men from Aroostook County served during D-Day in airborne, combat and infantry divisions. According to the history site, eight of them served in Army Airborne divisions and parachuted onto Utah Beach in Normandy: Charles DeLong, Roland Charette, Joseph Gendreau, Harold Lynds, Kenneth Fredericks, Donat Plourde, Walter Sanderson and Reginald St. Pierre.
Maine and Aroostook County were among the contributors to the massive American war effort during the 1940s when 10 million men were drafted for military duty and factories churned out vehicles, weapons and equipment. Aroostook County hosted two military airfields during World War 2, in Presque Isle and Houlton, with the Presque Isle Army Airfield serving as an important air transportation hub and German prisoners of war later working as farm laborers out of Houlton.
This year also marks 20 years of the Presque Isle Air Museum. Set in a wing at the Presque Isle International Airport, the museum features exhibits and information on the aviation history of Presque Isle, which also hosted an Air Force base which operated through 1961.
Presque Isle airport advisory board member Nate Grass helped organize the event hosting the D-Day Squadron. The Presque Isle Historical Society donated the Private Presquey bear as a way to forge an ongoing connection with the D-Day Squadron, which is organized through the Historic Flight Foundation.
More information on Private Presquey and the D-Day Squadron can be found on the group’s Facebook page, D-Day Squadron.