Jumping into history
By Airman 1st Class Zachary Cacicia, 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
/ Published April 23, 2015
DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. (AFNS) -- Prior to the launch of the Allied invasion of Normandy, the remarks made by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, to this day, still carry weight for one of the Soldiers he was addressing.
"Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force, you are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months,” Eisenhower said in his address. “The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you."
Seventy-one years after jumping into Nazi-occupied France and into history, with the eyes of the world set upon him and his comrades-in-arms, now 93-year-old George Shenkle, formerly of Easy Company, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, reunited with his World War II Douglas C-47A Skytrain April 18, 2015, at the Air Mobility Command Museum near Dover Air Force Base.
"This is the culmination of the long process to bring this airplane back into the condition like it was on D-Day," said Mike Leister, the AMC Museum director. "To have George come back one more time is a tribute."
Shenkle traveled from his home in Pennsylvania to visit the C-47, #42-92841, known as the "Turf and Sport Special," cargo plane that is permanently on display inside the AMC Museum. During his visit, Shenkle took time to talk with and pose for photos with museum visitors and volunteers.
Retired Army Col. Bob Leicht, one of the museum volunteers who spoke with Shenkle, is part of an all-volunteer team that restores aircraft. They have spent several months returning the C-47 to its D-Day configuration.
"Last month, we repainted the interior of the airplane back to an original color," Leicht said. "We found the paratrooper seats; we restored those and just put them in."
But for Leicht and many of the other volunteers, having Shenkle visit the aircraft was the final piece to a larger puzzle.
"Now the aircraft, as best we know, is restored to the condition it was on D-Day," Leicht said. "The cherry on the cake, if you will, is having the D-Day veteran coming back and re-entering his airplane. It ties it all together."
Shenkle was impressed with the condition of the aircraft.
"I think they've done a wonderful job," Shenkle said. "I'm glad to see they've put the effort into this thing."
A highlight for all those who attended the event was the involvement of a group of World War II-era 82nd Airborne Division reenactors. The nine reenactors came dressed in the same uniforms and were equipped with the same weapons and materials as were the paratroopers who jumped on June 6, 1944, over Normandy.
"Today, we are representing the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment," said Tech. Sgt. Neil Baughman, assigned to the 193rd Special Operations Wing knowledge operations. "We are here for George Shenkle, the veteran who jumped out of this C-47 on D-Day."
The reenactors boarded the C-47 with Shenkle to pose for photos, allowing the veteran to sit in the same seat position that he did on D-Day, position number three.
Shenkle maintains an active lifestyle, participating in various World War II ceremonies and reunions throughout the U.S. and Europe, including visiting Normandy every June 6th, for the anniversary of his jump.
"I will spend this May and June in France," Shenkle said. "We will be celebrating the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe (VE) Day and the 71st anniversary of D-Day."
Events like this, Shenkle's visit, are becoming fewer and further between as America's World War II generation of veterans is decreasing every day.
"It puts a face on a piece of history," Leicht said. "It's a personal connection to history, because when you think about it, the man jumped into history."