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WWII Planes Fill D.C. Skies For V-E Day

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

On the National Mall in Washington, D.C. - actually, at the World War II Memorial - this afternoon, thousands of people came to the Mall to observe the 70th anniversary of V-E Day - Victory in Europe Day - the end of the Second World War in Europe.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Ladies and gentlemen, the AT-11 - the Twin Beech.

(SOUNDBITE OF AIRPLANE)

SIEGEL: For this anniversary, an air show was arranged - a flyover by 56 World War II-era airplanes.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Now, ladies and gentlemen, approaching are the trainers.

SIEGEL: They come across, down the Potomac, over the Lincoln Memorial and head over the World War II Memorial, where I'm standing, before returning to the other side of the river.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Here come the Texans - the 600 horsepower, two flights of four. Listen to the sound that they make as they go over.

(SOUNDBITE OF AIRPLANE)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: One of the iconic trainers was the Boeing-Stearman biplane, an open-cockpit aircraft constructed of wood, fabric and tubular steel. There were more than two dozen different variants of the Stearman and more than 10,000 built.

SIEGEL: Here, this formation of six Stearman biplanes gets a ripple of applause from the onlookers. And everyone's too busy taking pictures to clap for the old World War II planes as they come overhead.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Look at them.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Inbound right now are two Curtiss P-40 Warhawks, a 1937 design that at the time of Pearl Harbor was our number one fighter. Directly to our left, the two Curtiss P-40 Warhawks with Allison V-12 engines in them - liquid-cooled.

SIEGEL: It's worth remembering that during the war, the men flying those planes were often barely men - just kids, really - average Joe's from all over the country. Speaking at the World War II Memorial, acting superintendent of the National Mall, Karen Cucurullo, made that point explicit.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KAREN CUCURULLO: This memorial reminds us that extraordinary things can come from people with otherwise ordinary lives. It helps us understand the monumental trials and sacrifices that have shaped our nation, our government and society.

SIEGEL: The events went on all day, marking the service and sacrifice of millions.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.