A Very Short History of the 61st Troop Carrier Squadron

by Tony Cicippio, TSSgt. USAF (Ret)

This story is from a firsthand account. It is not copyrighted unless noted but we request anyone using this for other than personal use to credit the author and the museum.

July 1990

Colonel Tedrow, Most Distinguished Guests. Members of the 61st Troop Carrier Squadron, 61st Tactical Airlift Squadron, 436th Military Airlift Wing, and Friends.

I would like to take this moment to thank the personnel of The Dover Air Force Base for making this day a reality. Please, all of you, join me in applause for Mike Leister, Jim Leech, Ed Thomas, Al Shank, and everyone else who had a hand in restoring our C-47, The Turf and Sport Special to the fine condition you see before you.

I was asked to use the KISS formula in my remarks today, which means: Keep it short and Simple, but I do want to give all of you a very short history of The 61st Troop Carrier Squadron.

We were activated on 26 October, 1942 at Bowman Field, Kentucky, with an original cadre of two officers and eighteen men. I can say this for sure because I was there; I was one of them! We moved then to Sedalia Army Air Base, Warrensburg, Missouri for our basic air training–and then to Lawson Field at Ft. Benning, Georgia for our final combat training before being sent overseas.

First stop was Tunisia, North Africa, where the squadron participated in its first combat mission. We dropped paratroopers near Gela, Sicily. Twelve aircraft participated, and eleven returned.

Our next base was Castelvetrano, Sicily, where we were ordered to fly supplies to our rapidly advancing armies. Then we moved to Saltby Air Base near Grantham, England, where we spent many hours training for the airborne invasion of Europe.

On D-Day, (the sixth of June, 1944), eighteen planes of the 61st dropped paratroopers from the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment right on top of the unsuspecting Germans on the Normandy peninsula. All aircraft returned to base, except one, which made an emergency landing in southern England. The rest is history!!

Now, I would like to take a moment now to read a “Battle Honors” citation from Headquarters, Ninth Air Force, dated 23 August, 1944–addressed to Colonel Clayton Stiles, Commander of the 314th Troop Carrier Group, and directed to all members.

And I would like to remind everyone that this included the men of the mess halls, The Quartermaster and Tech. Supply, The Motor Pools, Office Personnel, Line Personnel, Crew Chiefs, Pilots & Navigators, Radio Operators, Glider personnel, and EVERYONE who was a part of the the 314th.


“For outstanding performance of duty in action against the enemy on 5, 6, and 7 June, 1944. On these dates, members of Group Headquarters, and of the 32nd, 50th, 61st, and 62nd Troop Carrier Squadrons of the 314th Troop Carrier Group accomplished 106 sorties thereby distinguishing their organization through extraordinary heroism, determination, and espirit de corps in a flawlessly coordinated group effort in which Troop Carrier planes spearheaded the Allied invasion of the European continent.

All aircraft participating were unarmed and unarmored, flew at minimum altitudes and airspeeds, over water, and into the face of vigorous enemy oposition to unload their paratroops with utmost accuracy, making a notable contribution to the success of the intitial phases of the European invasion.

Through the untiring devotion to duty and the superior professional skill of all its officers and enlisted men, the 314th Troop Carrier Group has upheld and added to the luster of the highest traditions of the military service of the United States.”

By command of Major General Vandenberg.

We flew unknown amounts of freight every day after the D-Day operation, until we were needed for further combat operations. We flew in and out of postage-stamp airstrips–with gasoline for tanks, socks for infantrymen, shells for artillerymen. If the ground forces needed it, the 61st flew it–often from first light of day, until long after dark.

And then, forty four years ago today, this very aircraft, loaded with British paratroopers, (The Red Devils) participated in the crossing of the Rhine at Arnhem in The Netherlands. The story of this mission has been documented in the book and film A Bridge Too Far.

Nine days later, Turf and Sport, piloted by Gorden Hein, and with Bing Wood, (who is sitting right there with you) as crew chief, made the first combat resupply landing and takeoff of any American aircraft in the European campaign. It was the lead aircraft of the 61st in this mission. The airfield was under fire, and I can guarantee that this was one of the fastest cargo unloadings in history. The strip was later recaptured for just a short period by the Germans, and no one can even guess what happened to the cargo.

Our final combat mission was the Rhine crossing at Wesel–after which we flew more daily resupply missions into the heart of Germany. By this time, our pilots were used to overloaded airplanes and short muddy fields.

After hostilities, the 61st was assigned to The European Air Transport Service in Germany, and this particular aircraft, The Turf & Sport Special, was used to pioneer civil air routes across the continent of Europe. It served in this capacity for several months before being assigned to several other posts overseas, and then eventually returned to The United States for domestic service with The United States Air force.

We took her, brand new from the factory, and flew her into the start of a very productive service career. And we would like to think that we, and this old C-47, played a significant role in the history of Military Airlift as we see it here today.

And now, please cast your eyes on this hallowed plane. You will feel within its fuselage, and in the cockpit, the spirit of The 61st Troop Carrier Squadron, and the airborne troops who flew with us. Our voices, all of us, echo a prayer of thanks for the love and freedom that is such a great part of our American Heritage.

Again, I want to thank all of you for your fine work and attention to detail in the beautiful restoration of this proud old airplane.

Tony Cicippio
Technical Supply Sgt.
61st Troop Carrier Squadron
World War II

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