Smith: Sonoma County man flies over Normandy to commemorate 75th anniversary of D-Day

On Thursday, a squadron of World War II-vintage airplanes - including one from Sonoma County - will fly over Normandy to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Russian River vintner Joe Anderson says the tribute has been “one of the most amazing experiences of my life.”|

It’s easy to get choked up imagining how Russian River vintner Joe Anderson felt to fly a World War II-vintage airplane over Normandy on Thursday, while everyone back home in Sonoma County slept.

It was still the wee hours in California when Anderson was scheduled to fly in formation with other modified Douglas DC-3 airliners only about 1,000 feet above the American cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach.

The occasion: the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.

“This has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life,” Anderson, co-founder of Benovia Winery, said by cellphone Wednesday.

Earlier that day, he and his chief pilot, Jeff Coffman, and his wife, Mary Dewane, and son Jake Anderson flew “The Spirit of Benovia” across the English Channel and into France.

If Thursday morning’s historic commemorative flight came off as planned, Anderson’s splendidly restored C-53, one of several military adaptations of the famously reliable DC-3, was surely seen by Presidents Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron.

The flyovers marked the first time since June 6, 1944, that formations of the hardy planes dubbed Gooney Birds or Dakotas rumbled over Normandy.

In the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe, the beginning of the end of WWII, more than 800 DC-3s - most outfitted as the C-47 Skytrains - rained gliders and 13,000 paratroopers onto occupied France.

Taking the heavily defended beaches of Normandy cost about 10,000 Allied troops their lives. Thursday’s flyovers by 30 C-47 Skytrains and C-53 Skytroopers were a tribute to all who took part in history’s largest airborne invasion - and certainly to the few D-Day veterans who are still alive.

Benovia’s Anderson said Wednesday his plane would be part of a formation set to fly Thursday over the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer as the French and U.S. presidents pay tribute to those who lost their lives.


THE SMOTHERS RANCH up above Kenwood and Glen Ellen is beyond spectacular. And it could be yours.

Tommy Smothers - comedian, activist, musician, winegrower, yo-yo master and one-half of the Smothers Brothers - has put his vineyard estate up for sale. Asking price: $13 million.

The views from up there of the Valley of the Moon, the Mayacamas and Sonoma Mountain are worth many times that.

Smothers fell in love with and purchased the hilltop property 40 years ago. Now 82, he’s keen to stay in Sonoma County but to downsize from the ranch he named in tribute to the granddad, Ed Remick, who was with him when he found the place in the 1970s and lived there 15 years.

Apart from the views, major attractions of the Smothers-Remick Ridge ranch include a gorgeous 3-bedroom, 4.5-bath house that Smothers helped to build, two ponds, a pool, a studio, two barns and nearly 100 acres of land, some planted with premium, organic grapes.

Smothers’ former wife, Marcy, said the years she and the couple’s two children spent on the ranch were astounding.

“It was a good run,” she said, “and I’m looking forward to meeting the next stewards of this magnificent land.”

Listing agent Tina Shone said the place feels like the top of the world, and she is hearing from people who’d like to go up.

You can reach Chris Smith at 707-521-5211 and

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