Today is the seventieth anniversary of D-Day, the invasion of Nazi-controlled Normandy by Allied forces.
My dad was a ground-based radio operator in the 437th Troop Carrier Group. An article on the U.S. Air Force Air Mobility Command Web site — “437th Airlift Wing honors its history,” written on the occasion of the last reunion of the 437th TCG in 2012 — tells a little about what the 437th did on D-Day:
“The 437th TCG, flying C-47 Skytrain transport units, played a vital role during the early morning hours of D-Day, June 6, 1944, and the remainder of World War II. During the Normandy campaign, the group towed and released glider planes, as well as carried troops, weapons, ammunition, rations and other supplies for the 82nd Airborne Division.” (More history of the 437th is available on this military history Web page.)
Radio operators like Dad provided a communication link to the C-47s flying missions, including high-frequency (HF) radio direction finding assistance. Although strict radio silence was observed at the beginning of each of the four missions flown during the D-Day actions, on the return trip, planes that were in trouble could radio in and ask for a bearing to help them return to the airbase.
Dad said the 437th TCG began flying before midnight on D-Day, dropping paratroopers at Sainte-Mère-Église. Later during the invasion, the 437th TCG also towed gliders full of troops. Something on the order of a hundred planes flew each mission on D-Day. When he wasn’t on duty as a radio operator, Dad said he stood out on the flight line, counting the planes that were in formation waiting to land, seeing how many made it back. The 437th TCG only lost a few planes; by contrast, the 434th TCG lost something like half its planes.
According to the “Friends of the WW2 437th Troop Carrier Group” Facebook page, a couple of former members of that unit are in England right now for the 70th anniversary of D-Day — you can see pictures on the Friends of 437th TCG Facebook page.