In the brief, the motorways were to close at 6 a.m. Driving in the dark, our motorway access point was already closed at 5:30! D-Day security exceeded my expectations, and I’ve lived in Washington, D.C. We quickly reprogrammed our GPS units onto the road less traveled, managing to make it to the Secret Service checkpoint before the airport quite literally shut down.
On the tarmac, we saw Marine One and witnessed the arrival of two presidential planes, one for the US and one for France. Three Ospreys positioned to accompany Marine One to the site of the ceremonies, the cemetery behind Omaha Beach. Our mission was a timed fly-over with thirteen American C-47s and a Coast Guard C-130 in trail. Our N877MG drew the number two position (photo side) in the second “vic” (victory formation) of civilian aircraft. Before and after us, over the ceremony, would be a formation of eight C-130s and a formation of modern fighters. It was a complex, timed sequence with commencement dependent on the progress of the ceremony.
On take-off and forming up, we flew large holding patterns beyond view and earshot of the official ceremonies. We were not beyond the sensory experiences of what seemed to be hundreds of thousands of French and international visitors who lined the cliffs, beaches and roads, waving as we flew overhead. We had ten and six-minute call-outs to run-in to the target, and we hit our marks. After the special pass, we flew the battlefield beaches, Pegasus Bridge (also packed with waving patriots), Point-du-Hoc, and other D-Day landmarks for most of an hour. We had briefed a formation hold until the President could return to Caen Airport and depart. Instead, we were allowed to execute a streaming break and land with the Presidential party on the ground. Perhaps they enjoyed the old birds.
It was a joyous de-brief. Each pilot had a turn to speak. Most recalled a family member. Several revealed medals earned by a loved one, taken with them on the flight.