Nearly 1,000 paratroopers dropped out of the sky in Normandy today—but this time they did so in peace, instead of to wrest western France from the Nazis as they did during World War II. Drawing huge crowds who braved hot weather and lined the historic landing area at La Fiere, the aerial spectacle re-enacted the drama of the Normandy landings and served to cap commemorations marking the 70th anniversary of D-Day. Among the planes ferrying paratroopers for the event was a restored C-47 US military transport plane that dropped Allied troops on the village of Sainte-Mere-Eglise—a stone's throw from La Fiere—on June 6, 1944. And the pilots who originally flew it took the controls again last week, 70 years later, remembering their experiences.
Today saw dozens of veterans escorted down a sandy path to a special section to watch the show alongside thousands of spectators—most of whom lined two sides of the field. Planes including the C-47 aircraft flew by loudly overhead several times, with two dozen military paratroopers—from countries including the US, Britain, France, and Germany—jumping with each passage. Veteran Julian "Bud" Rice, a C-47 pilot who participated in the airdrops on D-Day, wasn't entirely impressed. "It's good to see 800 paratroopers jump here today, but the night that we came in, we had 800 airplanes with 10,000 paratroopers that we dropped that night, so it was a little more," he said. (Read more D-Day stories.)