Jumping into History
“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. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.”
These remarks made by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander, prior to the launch of the Allied invasion of Normandy, still carry weight to this day for one of the soldiers he was addressing, the now 93-year-old George Shenkle.
Seventy-one years after jumping into Nazi-occupied France and history, with eyes of the world set upon him and his comrades-in-arms, Shenkle, formerly of Easy Company, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, reunited with the very C-47A Skytrain that he jumped out of April 18, 2015, at the Air Mobility Command Museum near Dover Air Force Base, Delaware.
“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, AMC Museum director. “To have George come back one more time is a tribute.”
Shenkle travelled from his home in Pennsylvania to visit the Douglas C-47A Skytrain, #42-92841, known as the “Turf & 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 countless museum visitors and volunteers.
One of the museum volunteers who spoke with Shenkle, retired U.S. Army Col. Bob Leicht, is part of an all-volunteer team of aircraft restorationist. They have spent the past several months to bring the C-47 to the configuration it was in on D-Day.
“Last month we repainted the interior of the airplane back to an original color,” said Leicht. “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 himself, 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 re-enactors. The nine re-enactors came dressed in the same uniforms and were equipped with 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, 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 re-enactors 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 farther between as America’s World War II generation of veterans is decreasing each and 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.”
Source: Dover Air Force Base