D-Day veteran returns for one final mission

NORMANDY, France -- Friday is the 70th anniversary of D-Day. For the remaining survivors, some now in their 90s, this has been a time for one final reunion.

In 1944, Leslie Cruise jumped with the 82nd Airborne Division behind enemy lines the night before D-Day. Seventy years later, he and Whiskey 7, the airplane he jumped from, are back in Normandy. They both have unfinished stories.

"The next thing I know guys are plop, plop. Plop all around me," Cruise said of the bloody invasion.

Cruise has returned to the D-Day drop zones around Sainte-Mere-Eglise, where he landed 70 years ago.

It has taken him this long to confront a ghost from his past. Richard Vargas, a fellow paratrooper, was killed by an artillery shell as they both took cover during a German barrage.

Cruise said, "His body was right next to me, body to body ... A shell landed just beside him and it tore him apart on his right leg ... And I always figured that that was for me."

At the family's request, Richard Vargas was buried, not in Normandy, but in another American war cemetery in eastern France. Seventy years later, Cruise finally found Vargas' grave.

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Seventy years later, Leslie Cruise finally found Richard Vargas' grave.
CBS News

Cruise told CBS News, "It just, you don't forget it. It's there. You hate to break up, but you need to be a man, but it's tough."

Whiskey 7 is a tough old bird, too. The plan has been refitted in its D-Day livery and flown back to Normandy from a New York state museum. Once again, it's dropping jumpers over Normandy. Cruise is watching from the ground, this time.

History has come full circle. And finally put to rest. Seventy years later, Cruise was back in the air in Whiskey 7. Another mission to Normandy, for both of them, finally accomplished.

  • Mark Phillips

    Mark Phillips returned to the CBS News London bureau as a correspondent in 1993. He has covered many major stories since then, including the war in the Balkans, the death of Princess Diana and the weapons inspection conflicts in Iraq.

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