Ky. Air Guard to fly D-Day observance in France with unique aircraft

  • Published
  • By Dale Greer
A crew of Kentucky Air National Guardsmen departed here for France last week aboard an aircraft emblazoned with distinctive World War II “Invasion Stripes” to mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day.

The aircraft, a Kentucky Air Guard C-130J Super Hercules, will fly over France Thursday as part of scheduled D-Day observances, said Master Sgt. Lee Stanley, aircraft structural shop chief for Kentucky’s 123rd Maintenance Squadron. His Airmen applied the historic livery in late May, adding black-and-white stripes, period-accurate roundels and legacy-inspired nose art using a combination of paint and decals.

The same stripes were applied to Allied aircraft in 1944 prior to the invasion at Normandy so the planes could be easily identified, avoiding friendly fire incidents.

The nose art, designed by Stanley with suggestions from other Airmen at the 123rd, features a unicorn and lightning bolt on a yellow field. It’s based on the heraldry and squadron patch of the 368th Fighter Squadron, a World War II-era unit with ties to the Kentucky Air Guard, he said. The new version adds invasion stripes and a dark green field as tribute to historic fuselage markings on the 368th’s P-51 Mustang aircraft.

The 368th was organized in 1943 and quickly entered combat, supporting the invasion of Normandy by patrolling the English Channel, dive-bombing and strafing bridges, locomotives and rail lines near the battle area, and escorting bombardment formations to the French coast, according to historical records.

Following the war, the battle credits and honors of the 368th were transferred to the newly formed Kentucky Air National Guard as part of a nationwide redesignation of World War II Army Air Corps units.

More than 130,000 Allied troops crossed the English Channel by air and sea to invade Normandy on Day-D as part of Operation Overlord, successfully taking German-occupied Western Europe and turning the tide of the war in the European theater.

Dozens of D-Day veterans are expected attend the June 6 observation, and some are more than 100 years old, Stanley noted.

“I feel honored to be part of this 80th anniversary — to pay tribute to the men who gave so much so we could secure our freedom,” he said. “Designing the nose art is something I took a lot of pride in, and something I didn’t take lightly. I wanted to make sure we got all the details historically accurate.

"For a lot of those guys who fought at D-Day, this might be the last chance they get to see this. So we really took a lot of care to make sure we got everything right."