Two veteran pilots who were part of the D-Day invasion over Normandy, France, spoke to a packed crowd of service members, dependents and retirees Monday on Ramstein.
William Prindible and Julian Rice, both C-47 Skytrain pilots, flew airdrop missions during the invasion and are among the last few pilots alive to recite their tales of fortune.
“We were the lucky ones,” Rice said. “One hundred fourteen other pilots didn’t survive; they are the real heroes. We were all just young kids doing our job … the mission we were told to do.”
The pair both joined the Army Air Forces in separate months in 1942 and were stationed in Sicily, Italy, with the 37th Troop Carrier Squadron.
In the fall of 1943, they were sent to Cottesmore, England, for six months to prepare for the Normandy invasion.
The duo focused on the unforgettable moments that led up to the invasion, including when they flew in tight formation during a training mission two weeks prior to D-Day, training that ended in tragedy. Rice said the night was shrouded with confusion, which led to mid-air collisions and the first of their casualties prior to the invasion even beginning.
“Nothing is ever perfect — we lost our commanding officer, our chaplain, 12 aircraft and many men,” Rice said. “We wanted to forget that day, but you can’t forget.”
Prindible said that although they didn’t know it when they started, all their training had to be put to the test on June 6, 1944, and it was the discipline they gained that helped keep them alive.
This week’s visit was the first time they both have been to Europe since 1996.
“We spent two years getting ready for that one day; we were trained well,” he said. “I am grateful for the experience and to have spent that time with (the service members involved with D-Day).”
“This is our heritage … 70 years in the making,” said Master Sgt. Jason Beebe, 37th Airlift Squadron loadmaster, who also flew in the dissimilar formation with the C-47. “This was one of those opportunities you will regret not coming out to see.”
In honor of the 70th anniversary of D-Day and to commemorate Rice and Prindible’s visit to the base, 86th Airlift Wing Commander Brig. Gen. Patrick X. Mordente unveiled Skytrain Lane to signify the legacy aircraft of the modern-day 37th Airlift Squadron, the same airframe used by both veterans when they flew in Normandy.