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A ‘Tip of the Spear’ in D-Day, now a legacy carried by AF pilot

Retired Col. Vito Pedone, at the time Capt. Pedone (top right) stands with his C-47 Skytrain aircrew before their D-Day operation in 1944. (Curtesy photo)

Retired Col. Vito Pedone, at the time Capt. Pedone (top right) stands with his C-47 Skytrain aircrew before their D-Day operation in 1944. (Curtesy photo)

Maj. Justin Pedone, then Capt. Pedone, stands in the back of a C-30 Hercules with the pilots he flew alongside in Afghanistan. Pedone has flown tactical airlift operations from humanitarian efforts to the war on terror in both the C-130H and C-130J Hercules models similarly to his relative retired Col. Vito Pedone, who flew the C-47 Skytrain into battle on D-Day. (Courtesy photo)

Maj. Justin Pedone, then Capt. Pedone, stands in the back of a C-30 Hercules with the pilots he flew alongside in Afghanistan. Pedone has flown tactical airlift operations from humanitarian efforts to the war on terror in both the C-130H and C-130J Hercules models similarly to his relative retired Col. Vito Pedone, who flew the C-47 Skytrain into battle on D-Day. (Courtesy photo)

COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Military service wasn’t a question for Maj. Justin Pedone, with family members serving in the military continuously ever since the Spanish-American War, it was something he was destined to do.

Not only was he destined to serve, but also fly, as his roots and heritage intertwine with retired Col. Vito Pedone, a former C-47 Skytrain co-pilot, who was in the first aircraft to fly into Normandy, during the infamous “Operation Neptune,” better known as D-Day.

Justin, who is now a 14th Flying Training Wing executive officer and a T-6 Texan II instructor pilot, first found out about his relative’s D-Day heritage – his grandfather’s cousin -- during a deployment to Afghanistan.

Before this deployment, Justin knew generally of his family’s rich history, his father was a U.S. Army officer and someone he looked up to. Both sides of his family had many who served in various branches and it was almost family tradition. The Pedone name is synonymous with service in Justin’s family.

Justin’s family lived in military communities through some tough times, he recalled neighbors returning home hurt or injured, sometimes not coming home at all. These experiences shaped him into the pilot and leader he is today.

“I was so proud of my father and grandparents,” Justin said. “I couldn’t not serve, I grew up with the legacy and didn’t want to stop it here.”

When Justin’s grandfather passed away that’s when Justin first met Vito, during the funeral. Justin said he remembered seeing Vito, at that time in his 80’s, in full ‘mess dress’ there to honor his grandfather. This was when he learned of Vito’s career as a pilot in World War II.

Fast forward to his deployment to Afghanistan, reading about Vito interested Justin, so he dug further into the story, finding out Vito had dropped the Army’s 101st Airborne Pathfinders into combat, the same unit his father was a part of many years later.

He also learned of Jerry Pedone, Vito’s wife who was a flight nurse operating out of C-47’s during D-Day.

Justin said Vito’s story specifically changed the way he looked at his own flying. He said it has helped him understand why being able to fly with the most basic skills and tools is essential and he teaches future pilots today the importance of rudimentary flying skills.

“Finding out he was the lead co-pilot in D-Day and the many things he accomplished,” Justin said, “made me proud to be a part of the tactical airlift legacy. What he went through was a significantly different experience, but it fills me with pride to be a Pedone.”

Justin recalled his father speaking fondly on their history in the armed forces, serving in all branches of the armed forces. Which led to Justin attending the U.S. Air Force Academy and going onto fly tactical airlift operations from humanitarian efforts to the war on terror in both the C-130H and C-130J Hercules models.

“This is what my family has done for generations,” Justin said. “It’s not just those who are in the service who are serving, the spouses are there too. It gives me a lot of pride to see people so dedicated to their country and their families to sacrifice so much.”