A 14-plane formation of historic warbirds filled the skies above the Inland Empire, Orange and Los Angeles counties Monday in recognition of Memorial Day, saluting “veterans who gave so much,” as well as health care workers taking risks daily amid the coronavirus emergency.

“Folks all over Southern California were looking up and expecting this and thanking us,” Commemorative Air Force Inland Empire Wing Operations Manager Bill Prosser told City News Service. “They were looking for something uplifting. We could see people on the roofs … it was pretty cool.”

Prosser said he and CAF IE Wing Commander Steve Rose reached out to organizations statewide to solicit support for what was dubbed “Memorial Day: Operation SoCal Strong,” and the response was immediate.

“We’ve got no sponsors, just partners,” he told CNS. “We reached out to them, and they said, `Heck, yeah, let’s do this!”’

The idea, they said, came from seeing Thunderbirds and Blue Angels making the rounds across the country with high-speed, low-pass appearances as part of “Operation America Strong,” a morale-booster in answer to the virus-related impact. The Thunderbirds were in the Los Angeles metropolitan area two weeks ago.

In the local Memorial Day effort, Prosser and Rose piloted the IE Wing’s Riverside-based “D-Day Doll,” a Douglas C-53D manufactured in 1943 to carry paratroopers and cargo in World War II. The plane led the formation, which featured C-47 transports, T-6 Texans and P-51 Mustangs for a roughly 75-minute flight that was low, slow and loud with smoke trails.

The D-Day Doll carried a veteran from each war going back 80 years, including a World War II vet, a Korean War vet, a Vietnam vet, an Afghanistan vet and an Iraqi Freedom vet, Prosser said.

“We cannot forget our veterans who gave so much. Memorial Day is about remembering those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. Veterans Day is for all veterans. But Memorial Day is to honor all those who secured the freedoms we have today.”

Prosser said with health care workers on the front lines in the battle against COVID-19, they deserved recognition on the occasion, as well, and many were outside on hospital rooftops waving at the planes.

“It’s a way to say thank you,” Prosser said.

Along with the CAF aircraft, the Palm Springs Air Museum, the Lyon Air Museum, the Condor Squadron was in the formation, as well as a Flabob Express transport from Jurupa Valley, a historic aircraft owned by the Benovia Winery in Santa Rosa and Betsy’s Biscuit Bomber, a restored C-47 based in Paso Robles. And, there was air coverage from local media helicopters.

The formation had 19 designated flyover locations, with the operation starting at noon, covering: Loma Linda University Medical Center; Riverside National Cemetery; Anaheim; St. Joseph Hospital, Tustin; John Wayne International Airport; Pacific View Memorial Park, Corona Del Mar; Newport Beach; Long Beach Veterans Administration Hospital; the Queen Mary; USS Iowa Memorial; Green Hills Memorial Park, Rancho Palos Verdes; Zamperini Airport, Torrance; LAX; Santa Monica Airport; Los Angeles National Cemetery; UCLA Medical Center; USC Medical Center; City of Hope Hospital; and Chino Municipal Airport.

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