Veterans reunited with Whiskey 7

Updated: 06/05/2014 9:36 PM
Created: 06/05/2014 9:35 PM WHEC.com
By: Tom Brokaw, NBC NEWS

It was 70 years ago when a group of young men climbed aboard a plane that would take them over these shores on a flight into history and secure their place in what would later be called "The Greatest Generation". 

As long as there have been planes in the sky, there have been young men yearning to fly them.

Bud Rice said, “I saw Charles Lindbergh come down on Central Avenue in Panana City.”

Leslie Cruise said, “I feel in love with Barney Baxter, which was a comic in the paper.”

More women began to hear the call.

Naomi Wadsworth said, “My brother started taking lessons before me and I asked my dad if I could.

Across generations, they share a bond with another veteran, returning at long last to Normandy. A C-47 sky train Dakota called Whiskey 7, which is one of the very few planes remaining from the airborne assault on Nazi-occupied Europe. 

Seventy years ago, Bud Rice was an experienced pilot with 1800 hours in the cockpit. He was as ready as he’d ever be. At 2:15 a.m. on June 6, despite a dangerously low ceiling, it was go-time.

Leslie Cruise, who became a paratrooper when color blindness ruled out flying, was ready too.

D-Day and the long, grueling months that followed took an enormous toll on both Rice and Cruise. 

Cruise’s war ended when his right hand was shattered during the Battle of the Bulge. Rice piloted Whiskey 7 over the rhine into Germany.

Both returned home and, like so many, simply got on with their lives.  Careers, family, everything for which they had fought, but they never forgot Whiskey 7. 

After a careful restoration by the National Warplane Museum in Geneseo, Whiskey 7 hopscotched across the Atlantic to join the returning vets.  For Captain Naomi Wadsworth, the mission is personal. 

Wadsworth said, “To be one of the pilots flying a piece of living history that just gives me goose bumps."   

In Cherbourg today, it was time for Rice and Cruise to be reunited with an old friend.  Flying over the beaches and towns they liberated and for a few thrilling moments, Bud took control of Whiskey 7. 

Rice said, “Who thought 70 years later I’d still be in an airplane that I’d flown so long ago.”

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