Late Glendive vet will be part of Miss Montana D-Day honor flight

Sunday, April 21, 2019
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When Miss Montana, a Douglas DC-3/C-47, flies over Normandy for the 75th D-Day anniversary celebration, one of the jumper seats will bear the name of a Glendive veteran.

Several months ago Delores Copping was listening to the morning radio show, “Montana Talks” when she heard something about “Miss Montana.” She thought it was about the Miss Montana pageant hosted in Glendive every year so started listening and quickly realized she had the wrong idea, she said.

The Miss Montana mentioned in the radio show is a Douglas DC-3/C-47, an airplane built in Long Beach, Calif. in 1944. While it was designed for use in World War II, the war ended before construction was completed. However, a group from the Museum of Mountain Flying in Missoula is readying the plane for participation in the D-Day celebration.

“Her original mission was to serve our country in World War II, and this is one of the reasons we are flying her to Normandy…to complete her mission,” a note on the Miss Montana to Normandy website explains.

When Delores realized what this Miss Montana story was about, she wanted to learn more. Her husband, Chuck Copping who died in December 2004, made four combat jumps during World War II: Sicily, Salerno, Normandy and Holland, she said.

“The jump into Normandy was with the Pathfinders (a volunteer group) on the night of June 5. Their mission was to set up lights to guide gliders carrying combat troops,” she explained.

As she learned more about the Missoula effort to participate in the D-Day anniversary celebration, she wanted to contribute to the cause and sent in a donation. In response she received information on the jumper seat project and decided she wanted Chuck to be honored in that way, she said.

For a specified donation, a memorial plaque will be placed on one of the jumper seats honoring a person of the donor’s choice. Information and a photograph of the honoree will also be placed in a notebook and travel with Miss Montana, she learned.

Delores and Chuck had gone to France for D-Day celebration in 1974 and 1979, and he and their son had gone in 1994 for the 50th anniversary. They were always impressed with the gratitude of the French people when they learned that Chuck had been involved in the Normandy invasion, she said.

On one of their visits with a group of other veterans, they all decided to take a cruise on the Seine River. The veterans were wearing their overseas caps. When the attendant at the ticket booth saw them and learned they had been at Normandy, he waved them through the line, telling them “No charge,” she related.

According to information from the website, while Miss Montana never flew in the war, she did have a rich history. In 1949 she flew the smokejumpers that fought the Mann Gulch Fire near Helena. Twelve smokejumpers and one smoke chaser died in that fire. The airplane is displayed in the Museum of Mountain Flying as a tribute to them and to all the smokejumpers that fight forest fires, the website notes.

Museum workers take pride in the plane and every year they take her to the runway for an engine run-up. A crew of volunteers is working to make sure that she will be ready to fly across the Atlantic with other plane from the United States.

Miss Montana will fly with a fleet of American C-47s, the “D-Day Squadron” across the Atlantic following the Blue Spruce Route which allows for fuel stops and guidance from ground-based navigational aids. Leaving from Oxford, Conn, the fleet will refuel in Newfoundland, Canada, southern Greenland, Iceland and Scotland before landing north of London.

In London they will join C-47s from Europe and Australia for a flyover of more than 30 aircraft, dropping 250 paratroopers over the shores of Normandy on June 6. The jumpers will be wearing World War II-style Allied uniforms and will jump with military round parachutes.

“For the first time since World War II will this many of these magnificent aircraft be assembled in the very place where they saw their finest hour,” the website notes.

The fleet will also be on display at public events in the United Kingdom and France.

Reach Cindy Mullet at crmullet@midrivers.com .

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