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Benovia Winery co-founder, pilot flying over Normandy to honor D-Day troops

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The rumble of DC-3 airliners converted into warriors will be heard once again over Normandy on June 6, the 75th anniversary of history’s largest military invasion.

About three dozen of the restored aircraft from around the world — one from Sonoma County — will perform an aerial salute to the nearly 160,000 Allied troops who stormed the coast of Nazi-occupied France on D-Day in 1944.

The morning of that invasion, which began the liberation of Europe and ultimately the defeat of Adolf Hitler, military variations of the DC-3 delivered about 24,000 paratroopers and soldiers huddled inside gliders.

Taking part in the commemorative D-Day Squadron is an airplane owned by the Russian River’s Benovia Winery. Benovia co-founder Joe Anderson and chief pilot Jeff Coffman are bound for Europe in The Spirit of Benovia, a DC-3 that did not participate in the D-Day invasion but aided the fight against Japan by flying treacherous supply missions over the Himalayas.

During the war, the Benovia plane was outfitted as a C-53 Skytrooper, a troop and materials transporter. The more prevalent variation of the DC-3 was the C-47 Skytrain, the plane that veteran Del Tiedeman used to drop paratroopers, tow gliders and evacuate wounded GIs.

Aware that Tiedeman took part in the D-Day invasion, Benovia’s Anderson invited him to come along on the flight to France. Though grateful to be asked, Tiedeman declined.

But his presence will be felt as The Spirit of Benovia appears in next month’s formation over Normandy. In late April, Anderson and Coffman gave Tiedeman a tour of the aircraft and insisted that he sign the bulkhead behind the cockpit.

To follow the progress of the Benovia plane, go to www.benoviawinery.com/d-day-commemoration.

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