By Shannon Johnson
World War II has played a big role in the personal history of many Montanans, with over 57,000, roughly ten percent of Montana’s population at that time, enlisted soldiers before the end of the war.
Thursday, June 6, 2019 marked the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the invasion of the Allied troops at Normandy, France. From D-Day until Paris was liberated, on August 21, roughly 72,900 Allied service members were killed or missing and another 153,500 were wounded. The casualties for D-Day itself is estimated at 10,000, including 2,500 of which had died. Of those 10,000 it is estimated that approximately 6,603 were Americans.
To honor the brave men and women who served in this battle over thirty DC-3/C-47’s came together in the European skies so roughly 250 paratroopers could fly over the English Channel passing Le Havre and then the United Kingdom Drop Zone at Ranville to dot the sky with military-round parachutes as the men and women made their descent to the ground to commemorate those that had already made that jump 75 years prior.
Of these DC-3/C-47’s was N24320, an aircraft that was built with the intention to serve in the war, but never made it overseas as the war ended shortly after her life began in 1944. N24320 was not able to serve in the war but she had a full life of service to Montana. She was used for thirty years for firefighting, even flying the smokejumpers that fought the 1949 Mann Gulch Fire near Helena.
Later in life, while under the ownership of Johnson Flying Service, N24320 crashed into the water killing 13 people. She was repaired before being put back into service. N24320 now makes her home at the Museum of Mountain Flying in Missoula, Montana. Since N24320 had never been able to accomplish her mission of aiding in the war, the Museum of Mountain Flying made it their mission to get her there to honor the selfless Montanans that fought in World War II.
Some work had to be done to N24320 before she could fly again. “The airplane hadn’t flown for eighteen years,” said pilot Eric Komberec. In ten months, the Museum of Mountain Flying was able to raise a half million dollars and finish the restoration for this purpose.
Miss Montana took the journey with Komberec and N24320 to Normandy to represent our state and to remember those that served. This 16,000-mile trip took approximately forty days making several stops in America, as well a stop in Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Scottland, and England before making it to Normandy, France and then continuing on to Germany before returning home.
N24320 burned about 12,100 gallons of fuel and 70 gallons of oil with gas prices ranging from $4.50 all the way to $15.00 a gallon. “The most expensive fuel was probably in Greenland,” noted Komberec.
With Phillip-66 being a sponsor for this, Miss Montana and Kromberec decided to land N24320 in Baker for their fuel stop on Sunday, June 23 before heading back to Missoula to return home to the Museum of Mountain Flying. “It was a great success story for the state,” added Kromberec.