World War II fascinated Moreno Aguiari when he was a boy. Growing up in Italy, he saw the results of the war all around him and learned the importance of what had happened there. His grandparents had seen the war firsthand.

“My grandmother always told me that if it wasn’t for the Americans, we wouldn’t be free,” he said recently. “So, I have an appreciation for what the Americans did.”

Moreno Aguiari shows drawings of the “Placid Lassie” on display in his office at DeKalb-Peachtree Airport. (Joe Earle)

As a teenager, he developed his interest in airplanes. He wanted to learn to fly and attended a high school that specialized in aviation, he said. As an adult, he moved to the U.S. and worked as a commercial pilot. “A lot of Europeans came here,” he said. “This is the country of aviation.”

He became a U.S. citizen in 2009. As Aguiari grew older, he never lost his fascination with flying fighting machines from World War II and other wars.

About six years ago, he started a website called Warbirds News, which published online articles about vintage warplanes and the people who fly them.

He has described Warbirds News as “a group of passionate warbird enthusiasts who love the history and technology that aviation museums and flying collections preserve for the public.” Recently, the owner of the print magazine Warbird Digest purchased Warbird News. Aguiari works as the company’s marketing and business development director.

At age 42, he’s involved in another project that honors machines and men who fought in World War II. From a one-room office he keeps at DeKalb-Peachtree Airport, Aguiari is coordinating U.S. efforts to fly a group of Douglas DC-3s, also known by their military designation as C- 47s, to Europe next summer for the 75th anniversary of D-Day. “We are taking them back after 75 years,” Aguiari said one recent afternoon as he sat in his PDK office, which is decorated with photos and drawings of warplanes and pilots and other aviation memorabilia.

In June, the American planes will join planes from around the world carrying paratroopers into France in a ceremonial reenactment of the invasion of Normandy, when allied troops started moving across western Europe to attack Germany in World War II.

The flyover project is called “Daks Over Normandy” because the C-47 was known as the “Dakota” and nicknamed the “Dak.” Aguiari’s involvement with the project came through the foundation that owns and operates the “Placid Lassie,” a restored C-47 that took part in the original D-Day invasion and will join the reenactment next summer. The people behind the foundation that owns the “Lassie” found the plane in a field near Covington in 2010 and restored it. They call the plane “a real war hero.” The “Lassie” now takes part in air shows around the country.

Aguiari said part of his passion for World War II and older warplanes stems from how relatively simple they are, compared to more recent planes. In those days, before extensive development of electronics and computers, he said, the men who flew the planes really flew them. “World War I and World War II aviation was still a very man-driven type of flying…,” he said. “Flying those airplanes, you had to be a ‘good stick.’ There is a saying: ‘flying by the seat of your pants.’ From 1903 to 1948, we went from zero to jets.”

He’s also drawn to World War II planes and fliers because they are still around. “There is a lot of it out there. You can still touch it,” he said. “World War I, it’s all in museums, but World War II, you can still talk to the pilots. You can still talk to the veterans. … You can reach out and meet the people. It’s the human aspect. I never think of the war aspect.”

So, to honor those people and the airplanes they flew, he started about a year ago to help coordinate and raise the money needed to finance the D-Day Squadron’s participation in the anniversary flight.

He thinks it’s important to remember what happened then. He saw the results.

“You cannot build a future if you don’t know your history,” he said.

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