Stephen Pedone. Lt. Col., USAF, Ret.
The D-Day Pilot and Flight Nurse
Late on the evening of 5 June, 1944, two brave young Americans were poised for the greatest challenge and risk of their lives. Both “answered the call” to military service, and represent the thousands of others from America’s greatest generation, who were in harm’s way, on D-Day, 6 June, 1944.
They were my parents, and I am their only son, Lt. Col. Stephen Pedone, USAF, from Naples, FL. I tell their story, in my article titled, “The D-Day Pilot and Flight Nurse”. My dad was Captain Vito Pedone, and my mother was First Lieutenant Geraldine (Jerry) Curtis, both officers in the U.S. Army Air Force, stationed in England early in the war. My dad, “The Pilot”, was the co-pilot of the lead 9th Air Force Pathfinder Troop Carrier C-47, dropping the first “stick” of 101st Airborne Pathfinder Paratroopers into Drop Zone "A", behind Utah Beach, at 0013 hours, on 6 June, 1944. My mom, "The Flight Nurse", flew into the Normandy combat area in the same C-47s, on 10 June 1944, to care for and evacuate by air the severely wounded soldiers back to hospitals in England.
My parent’s story is one of duty, bravery, and determination in the face of danger, to execute the planned Normandy D-Day Invasion. They were part of the D-Day Airborne Invasion forces which crossed the English Channel to go in first, as the “tip of the spear”, to defeat Nazi tyranny and free Europe. They were very successful! Amid all the war-time preparation and danger, theirs is also a “love story”, and their story begins in 1943, while both were stationed in England preparing for D-Day.
My dad arrived in England first, in 1942, and flew (25) 8th Air Force combat missions in the single-pilot, twine engine A-20 light bomber, attacking Nazi coastal targets. In early 1943, he transferred to the newly activated Troop Carrier Pathfinder unit to fly C-47s. My mother followed in early 1943. Although stationed on different bases, they had a common mission: - “To fly into combat in C-47s, on D-Day!” They met and later married in England, in September 1943. Like so many Americans from different parts of the country, they likely would have never met, had it not been for WWII, which brought them together to do a tough and dangerous job for our country.
Through the military build-up of invasion forces in England, during 1943 to mid-’44, my dad and mom planned, prepared, and trained to be ready to execute their D-Day missions. The key lesson learned from previous airborne assaults, like in Sicily, was that especially trained “Pathfinder” C-47 aircrews and paratroopers were essential to lead the way, to find and mark the correct drop zones, to ensure successful deployment of all the paratroopers.
My dad’s C-47 would lead the tight formation of (20) Pathfinder aircraft, each with (18) Pathfinder paratroopers, low across the English Channel, in total darkness. As the Pathfinders approached the Normandy coast, a thick bank of clouds obscured the sky and view of the ground, which made formation flying very dangerous. They proceeded inland on the designated navigation heading to the drop zones. The Germans, hearing the sound of the C-47 engines, began to fire into the night’s sky. Tracer bullets all around them filled the sky with danger. As my dad’s aircraft approached Drop Zone “A”, behind Utah Beach, the clouds parted just long enough for him to visually confirm the Drop Zone “A” location, and the “green jump light” was turned-on to signal the paratroopers to jump! It was 0013 hours, 6 June 1944. The first American forces were on the ground in Normandy! Once on the ground, their mission was to “mark the (7) drop zones” for the follow-on “main body” of (821) C-47 Troop Carrier aircraft, led by the C-47 “That’s All Brother”, which were approximately 30 minutes behind the Pathfinders. These C-47s would drop thousands of 101st and 82nd Airborne Paratroopers into their specific Normandy Drop Zones (DZ). Upon landing back in England, my dad and the other pilot were order to personally report directly to General Eisenhower to provide a first-hand account of their mission. They then jumped back in their C-47, “to get in line” to take more paratroopers into Normandy.
My mother’s Medical Air Evacuation C-47 missions began four days after D-Day, on 10 June 1944, when combat conditions were relatively secure enough for the first C-47 aircraft, with a Flight Nurse on-board, to land on dirt fields near the Normandy combat area behind Utah beach. The aircraft brought-in a cargo of urgently needed supplies, which were quickly unloaded, so that (14) severely wounded soldiers on stretchers could be quickly loaded, and stacked three-high on side-mounted stretcher straps. The aircraft were the actual C-47s used during the D-Day air assault, with only “D-Day Invasion Stripes” markings, and were not marked with red crosses. They were on the ground a minimum time, before they took-off to return over the Channel, to hospitals in England. The Flight Nurse was responsible to care for, and keep alive, the wounded soldiers during the flight. My mom helped to save many lives and proved the worth of air medical evacuation.
The D-Day “Operation Overlord” air and sea invasion was a total success, and marked the beginning of the road to ultimate “Victory in Europe”, on 8 May 1945. My dad and mom had an important part in our victory in WWII, and their story of military service would continue. My dad rose to the rank of Colonel during his 30-year distinguished career in the U.S. Air Force, and participated in many other important moments in our nation’s history. My parent’s story ends at a very special place in our nation, Arlington National Cemetery, where they lie together for eternity – “There is no greater honor”.
Last June, on the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, my wife, Ximena, and I attended the special D-Day commemorative ceremonies in England and Normandy, to honor my dad and mom.
My parent’s “D-Day Pilot and Flight Nurse” story endures in our history, reflecting our “Greatest Generation”, which left a legacy of service and sacrifice to our nation and the world, in a terrible time of war, thus securing our freedom. “I am forever grateful to them, and will never forget them.”