WWII paratroopers, pilot leave historical legacies in Dover

Joseph Morettini signs the star by the jump door of the C-47A “Turf and Sport Special” at the AMC Museum in 2016. (Delaware State News file photo)

DOVER — The Air Mobility Command Museum staff offered a special tribute recently on social media:
A True American Hero
Joseph Morettini
RIP
Thank you!

He was the last survivor of the paratroopers who had jumped from the museum’s prized C-47A Skytrain during the invasion of France on June 6, 1944.
In recent years, Mr. Morettini was one of two men who recounted their D-Day experiences.
The other paratrooper, George Shenkle, was among the first wave of veterans to die from coronavirus-related complications in the spring.
Both men were in their late 90s.
The museum was lucky to have been able to reunite the two men with the restored transport plane.
The Delaware State News enjoyed telling their stories.
“Jumping is the easy part — it’s the landing that’s difficult,” Mr. Morettini told the Delaware State News in 2015. “But coming down, I had never seen so many paratroopers at once. There were people everywhere, and when I saw what was going on, I thought my life would be over.”
Years ago, former museum director Mike Leister connected the dots from a rare flight manifest and went on a quest to find crew and 82nd Airborne paratroopers who made the daring flight and drop into France that fateful June day.
Both men lived in Pennsylvania — Mr. Morettini in Erie and Mr. Shenkle in Lansdale.
The museum, over the years, welcomed the two paratroopers back for ceremonies and public appearances. Through recordings, articles and photographs, their stories will live on.
Earlier this year, Bob Leicht, a retired U.S. Army colonel who committed countless hours to bringing the C-47A back to its D-Day look, may have said it best.
“I’ve seen a lot of warbirds, and met a lot of WWII vets, both my parents included, but to be present when George and Joseph visited ‘their’ aircraft was priceless. The aircraft couldn’t talk, but George and Joseph sure could.”

Don Clark, a C-47 transport pilot, was a longtime volunteer
at the Air Mobility Command Museum.
(Photo courtesy of AMC Museum)

***


The museum’s success, it is often said, relates to the volunteers who freely share their military knowledge and experiences with the visitors
Donald Clark was one of them. He died in June at age 96.
Mr. Clark, who grew up on a Kenton farm, was a C-47A transport pilot during the latter months of the war. He caught the flying bug when he was a teenager at Dover High and frequently watched the Army’s planes at the Dover airfield.
The museum’s website has a wonderful 30-minute oral history with Mr. Clark.
He talks about flying fuel and ammunition to Gen. George S. Patton and jokes about an important mission he flew to deliver toilet paper to soldiers.
Mr. Clark flew 87 missions, 27 in combat.
After his time in the service, he returned to Kenton. In the late 1940s, a blight was affecting the tomatoes and a solution was to bring in crop-dusters from a New Jersey outfit.
Mr. Clark realized he could easily do that himself, and he took off in the crop-dusting business.


***


History of a different kind was John R. Alstadt Jr.’s passion.
Mr. Alstadt, who died last month, was a retired Delaware state trooper and historian.
In one of his roles with the state police, he was responsible for evidence. The most prominent case involved serial murderer Steven Pennell.
He later became curator of the Delaware State Police Museum in Dover and wrote two books, one on the history of the Delaware State Police.
The other was “With Love to Yourself and Baby: The Story of the Poison Candy Murder Case.”
The tale was one he enjoyed sharing with visitors on walking tours of The Green in Dover.
The “murder by mail” story is one of Delaware’s most bizarre tales. In 1898, Cordelia Botkin mailed arsenic-laced chocolates from San Francisco to Dover. Ms. Botkin had been in an affair with the husband of Elizabeth Dunning.
After eating the candy, Elizabeth and her sister, Ida, died.


***


This has been a trying year for Delawareans, especially those who have lost loved ones.
It is a somber role to write and print obituaries. But we recognize the importance of celebrating lives and paying tribute in a special way. That seems especially important during this pandemic.
Thank you to all the families who have included the details of notable moments and characteristics of those you have lost.

Editor’s note: The Delaware State News now offers a free daily obituaries newsletter. Sign up to receive it in your in-box.