Grissom commemorates 75th D-Day Anniversary

  • Published
  • By Douglas Hays
  • 434th ARW Public Affairs

June 6 marks the 75th Anniversary of the Invasion of Normandy, France, or D-Day, and for the 434th -- our predecessors were there.

The 434th was chosen to lead the glider phase of the D-Day invasion with 52 CG-4A gliders carrying men and equipment of the 101st Airborne Division, said George ‘Pete’ Buckley 74th Troup Carrier Squadron pilot.

Among them was Staff Sgt. Arthur Hopper, a glider pilot with the 72nd Troop Carrier Squadron who piloted Glider #7 ferrying troops into France.

Towed by a C-47, he neared Normandy, at about 4 a.m. June 6 1944. They stayed at tree level, roughly 300 feet up, to be less vulnerable to ground fire.

Buckley piloted Glider #49 at the tail end of the formation.

The takeoff time was concerning to Buckley and he wrote that “this was a tough nut to swallow, since most of our training in the States, and in England, had been for early dawn of daylight landings.”

“The bravery displayed by those glider pilots was amazing,” said Col. Larry Shaw, the latest commander in the 434th lineage. The unit now is an air refueling wing and operates out of Grissom Air Reserve Base, Ind.

The code name for the mission was Chicago and the planned landing zone was at Heisville, France, on the Cotentin Peninsula.

“Being towed to an altitude of about 9,000 feet, they cut the tow rope and you’re on your own flying literally by the seat of your pants at the mercy of the wind and weather,” Shaw said. “It’s a remarkable aviation feat.”

Take-off was scheduled for approximately 12:10 a.m. on the morning of the 6th, with touchdown scheduled in enemy territory at 4 a.m. near Heisville.

The pilots aligned the faint blue formation lights on top of their aircraft in line with the faint glow of the tow plane’s engine flame dampeners to maintain the most efficient flight efficiency.

Historians note that the gliders were cut lose within a few miles of their landing zone. The Germans held their fire until the gliders were coming down, riddling the aircraft and troops as they landed.

“It is right to honor the paratroopers and glider soldiers, as most everyone does – but it is also right to honor the Troop Carrier Crews who risked, and sometimes lost, their lives to deliver troopers to their assigned drop zones,” said Lew Johnston, a Trooper Carrier pilot and historian.

“As we perform our duties today, we stand in the shadows of those brave aviators and soldiers who forged the path for us,” Shaw said. “It’s an honor to follow in their footsteps.”

The 434th ARW is the largest KC-135R Stratotanker unit in the Air Force Reserve Command. The Citizen Airmen from the Hoosier Wing routinely deploy around the world in support of the Air Force mission.

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