Celebrating Pathfinder Pilot Lt.Col. Dave Hamilton’s 99th Birthday

Lt.Col. Hamilton in the right seat of John Session's DC-3 as they approach the Normandy coast. Hamilton was revisiting a similar scene, albeit in daylight, as he had seen during the first minutes of June 6th, 1944 as he flew his C-47 full of Pathfinders over to France ahead of the main invasion force. (photo by Moreno Aguiari)
LIFT FEB 2020


D-Day Veteran C-47 pilot, Lt. Col. David Hamilton USAFR, (Ret.) will turn 99 years old on Tuesday, July 20th, 2021, and plans to celebrate this massive milestone with his friends at the World War II Airborne Demonstration Team‘s headquarters in Frederick, Oklahoma. As many will know, Lt. Col. Hamilton is the last surviving ‘Pathfinder Pilot’ from the Normandy invasion of June 5th/6th, 1944. Hamilton’s aircrew, along with their cohorts in nineteen other C-47s, received special training to accomplish the vital task of placing elite Pathfinder teams from the 82nd Airborne at precise locations along the Normandy coast in France. These Pathfinder Teams were the airborne invasion force’s advanced guard, arriving in Occupied France in the opening moments of battle with the task of establishing drop zones while illuminating them, both visually and electronically, to help guide the rest of the invasion’s roughly 20,000 paratroopers to their positions. All did not go according to plan, however, as low cloud cover during their nighttime flight made the already fraught and intensely dangerous mission. Of the eighteen C-47 ‘Pathfinder’ crews which actually made it to France, only a handful were able to drop their paratroopers near the intended drop zones. Even so, the elite paratroopers held their own long enough for the invasion to succeed.

Following D-Day, Hamilton went on to perform other Pathfinder missions, such as Operation Dragoon, the invasion of Provence in Southern France, on August 15th, 1944, and Operation Market Garden over The Netherlands a month later. Additionally, Hamilton led the cargo planes over Bastogne, France to drop supplies to the 101st Airborne Division when Nazi forces had surrounded them during the Battle of the Bulge in December, 1944.


Following WWII, Hamilton went on to fly the Douglas B-26 Invader on fifty combat missions during the Korean War; he received the Distinguished Flying Cross and five Air Medals during this conflict, adding to the four Air Medals he already possessed. Hamilton concluded his military flying in the F-86D Sabre jet fighter, having had the unusual experience of participating in three radically different combat roles during his service career.

The two veterans: on the left Pete Goutiere (104yo) who flew 680 missions over the Hump in the CBI. On the right, Dave Hamilton (96yo) who flew Pathfinder C-47 #14 – photo taken after their flight in Oxford, CT. (photo by Moreno Aguiari)

Lt.Col. Hamilton’s birthday celebrations will be sensational indeed. The WWII Airborne Demonstration Team (ADT) operate two Douglas transports to perform their paratrooper reenactments. One of these is former Royal Air Force Dakota Mk.III FL633 nicknamed Boogie Baby while the other is a far rarer DC-3 airliner, dressed up like a C-49 and nicknamed Wild KatDave Hamilton will take the controls of one of these two aircraft, reprising his role in WWII, as ADT conducts jump operations in his honor! ADT will hold further birthday celebrations for the former Pathfinder pilot on Tuesday evening too.

While ADT’s celebration of Lt.Col.Hamilton’s birthday will be a private event, we expect to provide coverage in a future article which we feel sure our readers will enjoy!

About the WWII Airborne Demonstration Team

Considered to be the premier living history team of World War Two parachute operations, the WWII Airborne Demonstration Team Foundation was formed to remember, honor and serve the memory of those men and women who fought and died to preserve freedom. Like those who served during the war, our members come from all corners of the world, all walks of life and with or without prior military or parachuting experience. We host an immersive Parachute School three times a year at our WWII era hangar in Frederick, OK where students are held to the high standards of safety, execution, and performance commensurate with the Airborne ideals. The Team performs at air shows and commemorations across the globe in support of our vision to keep the stories of the WWII generation alive to inspire others. Learn more at www.wwiiadt.org and at https://www.facebook.com/wwiiairbornedemonstrationteam



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