D-Day Plane Returns to Normandy
D-Day Plane Returns to Normandy
Next month marks the 75th anniversary of an event which changed history. That turning-point was D-Day, and events marking the day will occur on both sides of the Atlantic. There will be commemorations from Michigan and Ohio to England and, of course, to Normandy, France.
I don’t know how many veterans of that monumental day will be attending — after all, these men would be at least in their 90’s. However, one particular veteran will be there, one composed of metal and motor parts. It’s a C-47 troop carrier, named “That’s All Brother,” which served as the lead aircraft that dropped paratroopers along the French coast.
That’s All Brother later served in Operations Market Garden, Repulse, and Varsity, returned to the US, and was sold on the civilian market, changing hands many times over the years. Then, in 2015, Matt Scales, an Air Force historian, managed to track it down. It was sitting in a Wisconsin boneyard, in pretty poor shape, but the Commemorative Air Force in Texas decided to take a chance on her. So the group raised $250,000 to purchase and restore the plane. That’s All Brother became airworthy once again in 2018, and the group travels with it to air shows.
The day before the D-Day invasion, That’s All Brother was the lead plane of a group of 900 which dropped some 13,000 paratroopers over Normandy. It led the pack for one main reason: she had an early form of radar. Thus, it was able to hone in on electronic beacons a small group of paratroopers had already set up in “pathfinder” aircraft.
That’s All Brother is now returning to Europe, following the same route her crew took to reach Normandy. Starting with a flight over the Statue of Liberty on May 18th, she’s making her way over Canada, Greenland, and Iceland. Finally she’ll take off from England and drop paratrooper re-enactors over Normandy to commemorate D-Day.
I can’t imagine how terrifying it must have been to be a paratrooper on that day. The HBO miniseries Band of Brothers, which told the story of the 101st Airborne Division’s Easy Company gives us an idea.
It’s harrowing to watch.
In fact, the air war in general was a terrifying experience. In 1944 my father served as the top turret gunner on a B-17 bomber. His bomber crew, part of the 15th Army Air Force, served 50 missions. He recently turned 95 years old, and my husband and I went back to my hometown to celebrate.
My cousin sent him a birthday card in which he wrote about visiting an airshow that featured WWII aircraft:
“They had a B-17, B-24, and B-25 on display. I was able to go into each one and was struck by how small and cramped the interiors were.”
“I got some small sense of how brave you had to be just to get into one of these, let alone the risk of being shot at!”
By today’s standards, the C-47, the B-17, and the rest are primitive. They’re slow, noisy, and run by motor, not jet engine. Yet they, and the men who flew in them, changed the world. Never forget what they did in those planes nearly 80 years ago.
Featured image: D-Day paratroopers/cropped/National Archives/public domain.