WWII planes will stop in Presque Isle to mark 80th anniversary of D-Day

2 weeks ago

Planes like those that dropped paratroopers in Normandy during World War II will visit Presque Isle as they mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day.

The D-Day Squadron will appear at the General Aviation Terminal yard from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, May 18, before heading to England and France on their 2024 legacy tour to honor WWII veterans. 

On June 6, 1944, Allies invaded Europe in the largest airborne troop operation the world had seen up to that time, according to the U.S. Army’s D-Day history. The D-Day Squadron formed in 2019 to mark the 75th anniversary of that day with 15 restored C-47 military planes, and started their journey in Presque Isle. It was one of the largest crowds the squadron saw, so they were keen to return to northern Maine, said local organizer Craig Green.

“The second largest reception they had in 2019 was in Presque Isle,” said Green, who is also a Presque Isle city councilor. “The number of people at the airport and those stopped along the road amazed them.”

Presque Isle’s air base played a significant role in WWII, according to Kimberly Smith of the Presque Isle Historical Society. A stop for planes to and from Great Britain, it was once the country’s most geographically important air base.

The Presque Isle Army Airfield was the starting point of the North Atlantic Route to Normandy for the D-Day operation, Smith wrote in her local historical column. The route went from Presque Isle to Newfoundland, Labrador, Greenland, Iceland, Scotland, England and ultimately France.

The C-47s were the military version of the Douglas DC-3 civilian aircraft. The paratrooper drop over Normandy’s beaches was at that time the largest military operation in history, Green said. 

That operation involved 156,000 troops storming Normandy from the sea and 13,000 paratroopers dropped in enemy territory, according to the D-Day Squadron. There were 9,000 lives lost. Of the 1,000 planes involved, 925 were C-47s. In the two-month Battle of Normandy that followed D-Day, more than 425,000 Allied and German troops were killed and wounded.

“It wasn’t easy, the Normandy invasion, because so many people were gunned down,” Green said. “To commemorate D-Day is important because it was the event that began in earnest the end of World War II and the Nazi occupation of Europe.”

Green visited squadron members in Pennsylvania last year to start making plans for their return.  

He expects about 5 C-47s to fly into Presque Isle for Saturday’s celebration, along with a PBY Catalina, an amphibious model that predates the C-47 by about a decade. The plane could land on the ground or in the water, making it invaluable for transporting troops to hard-to-reach places, he said.

Besides the aircraft and pilots on Saturday, there will be military displays, re-enactments, food trucks, 1940s music and interviews with the pilots broadcast over speakers. The Loring Job Corps color guard will conduct a ceremony. And since Saturday is also Armed Forces Day, those who have served or are serving in the military will be honored, Green said.

“Private Presquey,” a small stuffed bear that became the squadron’s mascot, will appear once again.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — May 10, 2024 — Craig Green, a Presque Isle city councilor and organizer of the D-Day Squadron’s May 18 visit to Presque Isle, holds “Private Presquey,” a stuffed bear who became the squadron’s mascot. (Paula Brewer | The Star-Herald)

The bear is actually a Postal Service commemorative figure, Green said, that happens to be in a 1940s-era costume. In 2019, he decided on the spur of the moment to ask the pilots if they’d take the bear with them and return it to Presque Isle. 

“They named him Private Presquey for Presque Isle, made him a bed and even gave him his own seat,” Green said. “Every day they sent pictures of what he was doing — even flying the plane.”  

The adventures of Presquey turned out to be a hit on social media, Green said. Presquey will once again accompany the D-Day Squadron as they travel to England, France, Germany and Italy. 

Following the D-Day remembrance, while in Europe the group will also commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift, which dropped food and supplies for civilians in the war’s aftermath, Green said.

A public dinner honoring the pilots will be held at 6 p.m. on May 18 at the Northeastland Hotel, with a Private Presquey video and a jazz band offering music of the WWII era. Reservations are required. 

The celebration is free and open to the public. For information, visit the D-Day Squadron website or email Green at Craig@crgins.net. Call 762-6500 for dinner information.