D-Day paratrooper visits AMC Museum for look at C-47 that flew him to France

DOVER — Dover’s Air Mobility Command Museum welcomed a special visitor Thursday: Joe Morettini, a paratrooper who flew in a C-47 transport and jumped into Normandy, France, on D-Day.

That plane now is on display in the museum.

Mr. Morettini, an Erie, Pa., native, and 18 fellow paratroopers in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, jumped from this plane into France on June 6, 1944.

Now, at 90 years old, he is one of only two remaining survivors from that flight.

“When I went in the Army, the first thing I did was ask my commander to go into the Airborne division,” Mr. Morettini said during his visit. “So after basic training, I headed to a few months of further training to become a paratrooper.”

There were perks to being a paratrooper — aside from the thrill of jumping from airplanes. Regular Army pay was $30 per month, but for paratroopers the pay was $50 per month.

“The Airborne division was voluntary, but very competitive,” said museum volunteer Mark Mougel. “They definitely sent out a lot more rejection letters than acceptance ones.”

Before basic and paratrooper training, Mr. Morettini asked his father if he could join the military when he was 17, but his father refused to sign the paperwork.

Three months later, however, Mr. Morettini was drafted.

The AMC Museum even has the jump manifest to prove Mr. Morettini was on the C-47. He was the 14th of 19 jumpers.

The jump manifest is one of less than a dozen remaining from World War II because all flight crews were instructed to destroy them after each flight.

But, for reasons unknown, the crew chief of this particular flight held onto the paperwork.

Mr. Morettini’s C-47 was one of 820 that took off from England. He was one of more than 6,000 paratroopers who jumped from around 700 feet in the air.

“Jumping is the easy part — it’s the landing that’s difficult,” Mr. Morettini said. “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.”

D-Day was the first of four jumps he made over his two-year deployment in the European Theater of Operations.

On each jump, Mr. Morettini and his comrades carried about 50 pounds of supplies, including rifles, food and basic medical supplies.

On his first jump, he landed just west of the town of St. Mère Église between two trees, his feet dangling a few feet off the ground before he managed to get out of his harness and drop down.

His first mission was to cross a field near woods to meet up with American troops on Hill 93. However, while crossing the field, the soldier in front was shot and killed while Mr. Morettini was hit in the arm.

He sought cover in a ditch where six dead Americans lay in addition to several wounded ones.

When the coast was clear, Mr. Morettini crossed the field and walked down the road to the nearest first aid station where he directed the doctors to the injured soldiers.

“I helped bandage the one soldier’s leg and wanted to go back to help the other guys, but the doctors forced me to go to the hospital because of my injury,” he said while holding back tears.

“I really didn’t do anything more or less than my other military buddies would have done.”

After recovering from his injured arm, Mr. Morettini went on three more missions.

He was wounded again, this time in the back. He made a speedy recovery, and was ready for a fifth drop when the war ended.

Even after both injuries, Mr. Morettini remains in good shape, he said, exercising three days a week at his local YMCA.

He also shares his stories with the public. About 50 civilians came out to the museum to meet him Thursday.

“I’m really surprised that so many people showed up,” he said. “It’s just something I wasn’t expecting.”

But many of those attending posed for photos with him and asked him to sign photos of the C-47 he flew on.

“There was a long time when I didn’t talk about the war at all, and then there was a time I couldn’t talk about it without crying,” Mr. Morettini said. “But recently, it’s gotten a little easier to talk about.”

He remains involved in World War II history, having traveled to Normandy last summer for the 70th anniversary of D-Day where he met President Obama and one of President Ronald Reagan’s sons.

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