Paratrooper returns to the seat of his D-Day plane

DOVER — George Shenkle, 71 years later, found himself in the third seat of the C-47 Turf and Sport Special, flanked by fellow paratroopers once again.

This time, they were reenactors with him on the very same plane that carried him into France on June 6, 1944 — D-Day.

From the Editor logo copy copyHe recalled the evening flight and jump into France at about 2 a.m.

“It was OK until we hit the coast and then the flak starts coming up,” he said. “We hit a cloud bank and when we came out of that it was panic. We got scattered all over the peninsula and most of our regiment was dropped on the incorrect side of the river.”

Mr. Shenkle, a communications corporal during World War II, was among 18 men who jumped from the C-47 into St. Mere-Eglise and gathered at Hill 30. a critical spot in the fight against the Germans.

“It’s funny how things come back to you,” he said. “I can remember being dropped and coming in and landing backwards. I remember it like it happened yesterday.”
During the war, he was with E Company, 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division.

Just as it looked in 1944, the C-47 sports the olive drab paint and the white stripes on the wings that were used to keep allied ships from firing at them.

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Just before the reenactors boarded the plane Saturday, Mr. Shenkle looked about the olive drab interior of the plane and the newly-installed shiny silver bucket seats. The base’s team of volunteers found them out west in a plane that was to be scrapped. They were shipped to Dover and installed this past week.

“I think they’ve done a wonderful job,” Mr. Shenkle said.

Until 1990, Mr. Shenkle was not active in veterans gatherings.

Mike Leister, AMC Museum curator, called him in 1990 and asked him if he was the same George Shenkle whose name was listed third on the C-47 manifest.

Mr. Shenkle is thankful he called and was one of several members of the squadron who came to Dover that year for an emotional, mini reunion. “They were sitting here crying,” Mr. Leister said.
Base volunteers spent countless hours restoring the plane and it is the centerpiece of the museum’s collection.

“This particular plane was the exact one we flew into Normandy on the early morning of June 6,” Mr. Shenkle said. “The museum’s volunteers brought this down from Pennsylvania when it was scrap and spent hours restoring it. Up to then, I was never interested in anything to do with it and I was glad to get out of the service.”

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George Shenkle poses next to his autograph on the C-47 that carried him into Normandy. Delaware State News photo by Andrew West

Saturday, Mr. Shenkle, 93, of Lansdale, Pa., was as big a star at the Air Mobility Command Museum as the one on the side of the C-47 that he autographed.

He accepted visitors and questions and requests for photographs, all the while joking and reminiscing.

One of the museum guests shook his hand and thanked him for his service, reminding him that he was one of “the greatest generation.”

“That’s what they say,” Mr. Shenkle said. “That’s what Brokaw says.”

Another asked him how many times he jumped with the Army Airborne during the war.

Three times, he replied.

“In Normandy and Holland (Operation Market Garden),” he said, “and from the back of a truck in the Battle of the Bulge.”

When reflecting on Normandy, he thinks about Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s address to troops just before the invasion.

“Dwight Eisenhower’s words still bring shivers up and down my spine,” he said. “‘The eyes of the world are (upon) you’ … if that doesn’t make you feel important — absolutely.”

Mr. Shenkle said he would return to Normandy again in May to celebrate the 70th anniversary of V-E Day and the 71st anniversary of D-Day.

He plans to continue to make the trip annually, he said.

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Once again, George Shenkle finds himself flanked by paratroopers, this time re-enactors, on the C-47. Delaware State News photo by Andrew West

“The thing that draws me back every year is that I’m well-treated and well-respected,” he said.
Mr. Shenkle, who retired from the steel industry, is the author of a book, “My Clear Conscience,” that tells his life story. It can be purchased at amazon.com.

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With reenactors filing in dressed in the uniforms of WWII paratroopers and appropriately geared, he was occupying the third seat of the C-47 still talking with journalists.

“Veterans, we’re inclined to talk,” he said. “We like to be asked to talk. I really do feel honored. I guess that everybody, as they get older, likes to feel they’re still alive and that someone still thinks that they are important.”

He looked down at the medals on his Army Airborne jacket, including the Bronze Star he got for his time in France and the Purple Heart he earned in the Battle of the Bulge. Another is a Legion of Honor medal he received from French President Francois Hollande last year in a ceremony at the White House.

“What do you think these things are for,” he said with a laugh, “Like Napolean, give me enough ribbon and I’ll conquer the world. You’ve got to give a boost to the ego.”

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George Shenkle is flanked by reenactors during a photo shoot inside the C-47 at Dover’s AMC Museum on April 18,

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Reach Executive Editor Andrew West at awest@newszap.com

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