We are nearing the 80th Anniversary of D-Day, a day that united land, air and sea forces of allied armies that would become known as the largest amphibious invasion in military history. This invasion began the allied liberation of France and the rest of Western Europe, which would ultimately lead to the defeat of Nazi Germany and would later become known as the beginning of the end of World War II.

This invasion force included 7,000 ships and 11,000 landing craft manned by over 195,000 naval personnel from eight allied countries and began shortly after midnight on the morning of June 6th 1944. Nearly 160,000 allied troops landed Normandy. Of those, 73,000 were from the United States, 83,000 from Britain and Canada. More than two-million allied soldiers, sailors, pilots, medics and other people from a dozen countries were involved in the operation that was referred to as Overlord.

Today, thousands of pilots, reenactors and supporters fly to France to honor not only this historical day, but also more importantly the brave veterans who fought the battle on D-Day . The 80th Anniversary is a significant year as only a few of those brave men are living today. Our creative team recently caught up with WWII Airborne Demonstration Team Member, Blake W. Whiston, to delve into his experience as reenactor parachutist and why he dedicates his time in preserving this historical day in the Q & A below.


Cockpit USA: What are three skills that best represent a reenactor?

Blake Whiston: The primary mission of any reenactor is to remember the sacrifices made by the veterans we portray. We strive to honor these individuals by retelling their stories to an audience. The first skill that represents a reenactor is our attention to detail. We want viewers to see an image as close to the real thing as possible. When representing a person’s likeness, it must be done with the utmost authenticity. 

The second skill is teaching. The ability to communicate a message to an audience in a way that will inspire a person to want to learn more about the history you’re sharing is a unique skill for a reenactor.

Finally, number three is passion. It’s a time consuming endeavor and passion makes every second enjoyable. Your passion will inspire others around you and inspire others to learn more, continuing the mission of remembering, honoring and serving our veterans and their stories.


Cockpit USA: What is your affiliation with the WWII Airborne Demonstration Team?

Blake Whiston:  I am currently a team member assigned to Able Company working as a Rigger Trainee in the Parachute Rigger’s Shop. Occasionally, I get the opportunity to help with recruiting and marketing. My aspirations include becoming a licensed parachute rigger and eventually a jumpmaster. One jump at a time!

Cockpit USA: Can you tell me more about your aircraft’s history?

Blake W. Whiston:  The World War II Airborne Demonstration Team owns and operates two WWII era aircraft that present a unique opportunity to conduct airborne operations and parachute operations. Both aircraft are painted in the colors of squadrons belonging to the 441st Troop Carrier Group of WWII. The main jump platform is a C-47 named “Boogie Baby” and it was built at Tinker, Oklahoma in 1942 and is painted in the colors of the 301st Troop Carrier Squadron. The other aircraft is a DC3 converted for transport operations named “Wild Kat” that was built in Long Beach, California in 1941 and is also painted in the colors of the 301st Troop Carrier Squadron. This squadron took part in airborne operations in WWII that included the invasions in Operations Overlord and Dragoon in France; Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands; Operation Kangaroo the Bastogne Resupply in Belgium and Operation Varsity in Germany. This unit was awarded 7 Battle Stars on their European Campaign as well as a Presidential Unit Citation and played a vital part in the downfall of the Nazi oppressors. “Boogie Baby” is the only one of the two aircraft that actually took part in combat missions during WWII and retains much of its original configuration.

Cockpit USA:  How long have you been involved with the Living History Events and WWII Air Shows?

 Blake W. Whiston:  Though I’ve had a lifelong passion and interest in military history, it all began for me when I performed my first 5 jumps and graduated the WWII Airborne Demonstration Team’s 10-Day Parachute School program with the class of 22-2 in October of 2022. Fast forward to today, I now have 17 static line parachute jumps, and I am eager for many more!

Cockpit USA: Is this your first time participating in the parachute reenactment for the anniversary of D-DAY?

Blake W. Whiston: Yes! Though the WWII ADT has been involved for many years, this is my first time going to Europe with our team. It’s an incredible honor and the opportunity of a lifetime. I absolutely cannot wait!

Cockpit USA:  How did you come across the Cockpit USA brand?

Blake W. Whiston:  I started to research for an authentic WWII A-2 jacket after becoming a team member with the WWII ADT, as the A-2 is our ‘team jacket’. Cockpit USA’s quality and authenticity stands out a mile in comparison to others. I had zero doubts that my Cockpit USA A-2 would be a treasured piece that I will one day pass down to my children. I constantly receive compliments on my jacket’s quality and appearance.

Cockpit USA:  Can you tell me about your patches and what they mean to you?

Blake W. Whiston:  Absolutely! My patches are my favorite subject to talk about, each patch tells a unique story. On the left shoulder, you’ll see the Airborne Command patch which is an original WWII patch, located just above the Airborne Command  patch is our WWII ADT bar. On my left chest, you’ll see the Jump Wings that I earned for 5 static line parachute jumps. Underneath the jump wings is our team Oval patch,  boasting the invasion stripes that can be seen on aircraft during the Normandy invasion. Below that, is where my name tape is located. Directly below my name is our team’s Roundel patch. On the right, front  midsection, is my parachute school class patch, we named our class the Triple Deuce as our class number was 22-2. Directly beneath it on the right pocket is the French 1st Airborne patch, given to me by the French Airborne Center team who visited our hangar when I was a student.

Both my class patch and my team Roundel patch were taken overseas by one of my classmates who carried them with him to significant locations such as; the drop zones near Wesel, the Ardennes American Cemetery, Bastogne and finally the Huertgen Forest. At each significant battlefield or location, he smudged a bit of dirt on the back of the patch so I’d be carrying a part of history with me wherever I go. 

Cockpit USA:  What does D-Day mean to you?

Blake W. Whiston: The ultimate example of bravery, courage and sacrifice in the face of extraordinary challenges. Speaking solely about the Airborne component, what these men faced is unimaginable. I know the fear I’ve personally faced jumping in broad daylight, with a little turbulence, into a farmer’s field. That pales in comparison to the unimaginable fear these paratroopers faced jumping in pitch black darkness carrying 100+lbs of equipment, facing flak and anti-aircraft fire in every direction, knowing they had to fight when they landed. An undeniable example of courage.

Cockpit USA: What can people look forward to for the 80th anniversary of D-Day?

Blake W. Whiston: This is quite possibly the final opportunity we have to say thank you to those veterans still with us who will be present. Though there will be future anniversaries and celebrations, this one will be remarkable. The WWII Airborne Demonstration Team will be conducting parachute operations and appearances throughout the week and over multiple drop zones including: Ste. Marie Du Mont, Graignes and Boutteville.

We invite everyone to follow Blake Whiston to find out where the WWII Airborne Demonstration team will be! Shop Blake Whiston's WWII Issue A-2 by clicking on the image below.