In June 1944, 82nd Airborne paratrooper Les Cruise jumped out of the C-47 aircraft “Whiskey-7” to battle in France and Belgium, where he saw many of his battle brothers killed, and suffered injuries himself that would later earn him the Purple Heart.
Cruise is the last surviving paratrooper from that mission and after 72 years, he was able to board that same plane in 2017 with his family and take a final flight.
Michael Ayjian and Stephen Skeel, co-founders of the production company 7 Wonders Cinema, set out to recreate Cruise’s powerful story and ultimately found the original plane Cruise jumped from.
“I met Les through my grandparents during a research project for a 7th-grade history class. My interest turned into much more than a homework assignment! I ended up making a 60-minute film based on Les’s story during middle-school. The film did not turn out so great, but it was a learning lesson,” Skeel said.
“After many more learning lessons, it finally felt like the right time to come back to his story again.” A decade later, “All American” was released.
Skeel added, “After our first interview, we discovered the same plane that Les jumped out of on D-Day, Whiskey-7, is preserved in Geneseo, NY at the National Warplane Museum. We decided that we had to follow Les and his family up there to reunite with it once again. After our shoot, the people at the museum told us about the recreational team that portrays the 82nd Airborne and helped us organize a second trip. The second time, we recreated Les’s experience of D-Day with the reenactors on the same plane from the war.”
7 Wonders Cinema, in conjunction with the National Warplane Museum, made it possible to use the very same C47 that carried Cruise into Normandy in 1944.
Take a look in the video below:
In the documentary, actors portray the 82nd Airborne and recreate the same battles that Cruise was in.
Ayjian said, “The war shaped Les’ story, but often times in films about war, the human element gets lost. This story, at the core, is about family. It is about a man who didn’t have a home trying to find one, and then creating one himself.”
“Both of my grandfathers fought in WWII and I wish their stories could have been shared. Telling Les’ story gives me a sense of satisfaction, honoring their legacy as well,” Ayjian added.
Cruise was abandoned and lived in an orphanage most of his childhood. During his service, which he entered at age 18, he bonded closely with his fellow soldiers.
After Cruise completed his service, he had no one to come home to. He returned and built a life from scratch. At the age of 21, Cruise met the love of his life and married her. They have been together ever since and share children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren.
Today, you would probably find Cruise with his family, which consists of many grandchildren and great-grandchildren or you may catch him doing some painting, his passionate hobby. Family is very important to Cruise because of the way he was brought up, according to War History Online.