LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- “This operation is not being planned with any alternatives. This operation is planned as a victory, and that’s the way it’s going to be. We’re going down there, and we’re throwing everything we have into it, and we’re going to make it a success.”
These were the words of U.S. Army Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower 75 years ago on June 6, 1944, otherwise known as D-Day, an event that changed the tide of World War II and defined the Greatest Generation.
In commemoration of the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the Kentucky Air National Guard will fly two C-130 Hercules aircraft over Normandy, France, next month, airdropping scores of U.S. Army paratroopers. The wing had previously supported the 70th anniversary of D-Day back in 2014 by airlifting the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne and joint terminal attack controllers to Europe.
But to Maj. Josh Ketterer and Capt. Nick Reinke, pilots in Kentucky’s 165th Airlift Squadron, simply supporting the 75th anniversary wasn’t enough — they wanted to play a central role this time around.
Reinke recalled how, during the 70th anniversary commemoration, he had the opportunity to walk the beaches and visit the towns that were liberated in 1944. Now he is the lead coordinator and mission commander for the 123rd Airlift Wing’s C-130s and for all of the aircraft flying out of Évreux, France, for the historic reenactment.
“It was a surreal experience in 2014, and that was just getting to be there,” Reinke said. “Now, I’m actually getting to participate in it. It's certainly a challenging experience with the coordination aspect, but I'm very proud to have this opportunity.”
Though the C-47 was the primary aircraft for troop transport and paratroopers on D-Day, the C-130 will be the current military airframe of choice this year — and the Kentucky Air Guard’s C-130s will be the only Air National Guard aircraft participating. The C-130s will perform a couple of flyovers for various ceremonies between June 4 and 8, and then will be dropping paratroopers along with more than 40 other aircraft on the big day of June 9.
For Lt. Col. Randall Hood, commander of Kentucky’s 123rd Operations Support Squadron, World War II has special significance.
“I’m named after my great uncle, who was a B-17 top turret gunner,” Hood said. “He was shot down December 31, 1943, and didn't make it back. I’ve carried his legacy throughout my entire flying career.”
Hood spoke about the pride he has in being a part of this year’s observance.
“The gargantuan scale of the D-Day invasion and the sacrifice that these guys made back then is hard to fathom. The fact that we will have an opportunity to honor the people who actually did this 75 years ago is very humbling.”
While attending planning conferences for the 75th anniversary, Reinke and Hood saw some of the historic Allied striping that was applied to other aircraft participating this year’s event and decided the Kentucky Air Guard needed to do the same. They talked with wing leadership to see if they could make it happen, and Airmen from the 123rd Maintenance Group stepped up to get it done in a matter of days.
Hood believes the stripes bring authenticity to the experience.
“The stripes just add that little something extra, the weight of what you're about to be a part of,” he said. “When you carry those stripes, you're a part of something that is much, much bigger than what you are.”
Black and white stripes were painted on Allied aircraft during World War II to reduce the chance they would be attacked by friendly forces during Operation Overlord, the formal name of the invasion. The stripes in 1944 were mostly painted by Allied troops using brushes and whatever else they could find, because orders to paint them weren’t issued until just a few days before the invasion to keep it a secret from the German Luftwaffe.
“We had to look into the process, see what they looked like and reach out to some other units that had already done it,” said Master Sgt. Jonathan Stanley, the 123rd Maintenance Squadron’s non-destructive inspection non-commissioned officer-in-charge. “Some units were able to paint, and there's some that used vinyl. So we did some cost and time analysis, to see which way would probably be the best for us and our capabilities right here.”
The Airmen decided painting would take too long, and determined that vinyl decals would be the right course of action. An exception-to-policy letter had to be created, signed off by the wing commander and then sent to the National Guard Bureau. Once approved, the maintainers had to order the materials to complete the project.
After hours of studying the stripes from reference materials, the Kentucky Airmen designed and printed the vinyl decals. Eight members from three different maintenance sections — Structures, Non-Destructive Inspection and Metals — then came together to apply the stripes, stars and a USAF logo. After three days of meticulous work, the aircraft was finished and ready for flight.
“This is probably the biggest vinyl project ever done on these aircraft.” Stanley said.
Senior Master Sgt. Tim Kenney said the effort took a lot of dedication from a small team working under a tight deadline.
“The way these three shops came together as professionals and built on their teammates’ talents makes me proud to be their element leader,” said Kenney, fabrication element leader in the 123rd Maintenance Squadron. “Their can-do attitude and outstanding initiative made it possible to properly honor the brave men and women who took part in the D-Day invasion 75 years ago.”
Maj. James Embry agreed.
“The meticulous efforts displayed by our team of Fabrication Element professionals was nothing short of superb,” said Embry, commander of the 123rd Maintenance Squadron. “With the significance of the upcoming event, every maintainer who had a role in striping the aircraft put maximum effort in ensuring the end product was something that all KYANG members can be proud of.”
In addition to approximately 20 personnel from the Kentucky Air Guard’s 165th Airlift Squadron and 123rd Maintenance Squadron who are deploying for D-Day 75, the wing’s 123rd Contingency Response Group will be providing 12 Airmen for ground support of units flying in the event.
According to Master Sgt. Adam Keller, Mission Planning Cell loadmaster for the 123rd CRG, the unit will provide command and control personnel to send up situational reports to higher headquarters. A communications package also will be deployed to provide satellite communications, Internet connectivity, and radio support for aircraft-to-aircraft and aircraft-to-ground communications. Finally, the unit will provide aerial porters to perform joint inspection of cargo to redeploy all units back to their home stations from Évreux.
“I’m very proud to be part of this momentous reenactment,” Keller said. “We’re very excited to be the only Air Guard contingency response unit on the ground in France, and to honor those who fought and paid the ultimate price 75 years ago.”