Hours before 160,000 Allied troops landed along the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, a stunt man known as the "Flying Irishman" of Lafayette, Mike Murphy, led more than 400 gliders across the English Channel.
Flying under cover of darkness at 2,000 feet, once they approached heavily-fortified French coastline, the tow plane released the gliders and they began their descent around 4:00 a.m. local time.
At 600 feet above the ground, German gunners took note and attacked with one glider reportedly taking 94 shots, according to Spencer, but no one on board was hit.
After a career performing tricks in the air, a Lafayette man became one of the first to land in Normandy on D-Day, the turning point for World War II in Europe. https://t.co/wDkiDd1peK— Journal & Courier (@jconline) June 5, 2019
Towed by a Douglas C-47, Murphy’s glider "The Fighting Falcon" coasted into Normandy carrying Brigadier General Donald Pratt of the 101st Airborne Division, his aide First Lieutenant John May, the general’s jeep (with the general in it), several 5-gallon gas cans and the command radio for the general.
Weighed down further by armor installed under the plane by the general’s staff, the glider was said to be overloaded by 1,000 pounds before take-off.
Murphy was to guide the planes to land just over seven miles from Utah Beach but both pilots were exhausted from trying to control the path of an overweight plane.
When another plane landed just barely ahead of him, Murphy tried to pull up to slow his plane but ended up landing far faster than what a glider in those conditions should have.
"It was rather difficult for glider pilots inasmuch as we were landing in the middle of the enemy, following the paratrooper and we couldn't use position lights or landing lights," Murphy is quoted as saying in the Journal & Courier.
The plane plowed into a massive hedgerow tree at a reported speed of 50 mph killing Murphy's co-pilot and the General, likely from blunt force trauma.
Lt. May, the General's assistant, escaped with just a bruise while Murphy had sustained two broken legs and injured his knee. He managed to get himself out of the plane, dropping into a ditch until nightfall.
"I had a rifle and .45 and I passed the time knocking off any Germans that came within range," he told the press later that month.
Murphy's injuries were reported to be his first in more than 7,000 hours of flying and he was taken to a nearby chateau and later evacuated from that building on June 9, before a German bomb landed on the chateau, killing 11 people and injuring 15.
News of his role in the invasion was front page news in the Journal & Courier a day after the mission and was later called "The Lafayette hero" in an article bursting with community pride.
Lieutenant Colonel Michael C. “Mike” Murphy earned a Purple Heart, the Legion of Merit and air medals for his actions in World War II.
The "Flying Irishman" of Lafayette known for his aeronautical acrobatics
Murphy was born in Rossville, Illinois, in 1906. Murphy's family moved to Montgomery County in Indiana when he was a child and later, onto Lafayette.
At age 20, he took up flying, learning on a WWI-era plane and barnstormed around the country, putting on outrageous demonstrations of flying.
Some of his tricks include flying a biplane close enough to the ground to pick up handkerchiefs with his wing, according to the Pharaohs Tribune.
He was the only pilot who could land a plane on a specially-built car and then take off again. He also performed landing his plane upside down, a move that was later banned because it was deemed too dangerous.
All of these stunts required some special plane modifications and equipment that Murphy engineered and built himself.
By the 1930s, Murphy was running an airport in Kokomo and had made a name for himself in aeronautical acrobatics as "The Flying Irishman" at shows from Florida to Missouri to crowds of more than 10,000 in Greater Lafayette.
"He was the ace of the stunt pilots," Kokomo airport operator Robert Shank told the Journal & Courier in 1944. "He was a natural."
Mike Murphy recruited by the Army to train glider pilots in WWII
The "Flying Irishman" of Lafayette Mike Murphy won awards for his flying but once WWII began, he was recruited to train glider pilots. But midway through the conflict, the Army began considering disbanding the use of gliders, who had gained an unpopular nickname: "Flying coffins."
In a creative presentation to military officials, Tippecanoe County Historical Association Pete Bill says Murphy showcased the plane's stealth abilities and secured their continued use by the military.
Murphy became a senior US Army Air Force glider pilot and even though he wasn't scheduled to participate in the mission, saying he wanted a look at how the pilots he had trained performed in combat on the D-Day mission, according to an account of the day by US Air Force Major Leon B. Spencer.
Saving Private Ryan
Kokomo resident and researcher Donna McCay says Murphy was as popular as Charles Lindbergh.
One of Murphy's stunt planes hangs upside down in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. McCay said the curator told her it was placed upside down because Murphy rarely flew it right side up.
Murphy is loosely depicted as 2nd Lt. DeWindt in the 1998 movie "Saving Private Ryan. The character tells Tom Hanks, who plays a fictional Captain John Miller, that he escaped without incident but like the real Murphy, had two people onboard his glider that died in a similar crash.
What do you think about the heroics of "Flying Irishman" of Lafayette, Mike Murphy? Had you ever heard of him before?
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