Flying history: 'That's All, Brother' C-47 lands in Terre Haute

Michele Lawson, The Tribune-Star, Terre Haute, Ind.
·3 min read

Apr. 13—The Central Texas Wing of the Commemorative Air Force is keeping alive the memory of the young paratroopers who jumped from the plane "That's All, Brother" into Normandy, France, on D-Day — June 6, 1944.

The historic military plane, a Douglas C-47 Skytrain, landed at the Terre Haute Regional Airport on Monday so members of the media could talk with the crew and take a flight on the C-47. It will be open to the public for tours and flights Tuesday through Thursday this week.

"In honor of the veterans and the sacrifices they made, as well as to inspire the next generation into aviation careers, "That's All, Brother" brings a unique opportunity of historic value that doesn't come around very often," said TJ Cook, retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel and member of the Commemorative Air Force.

More than 75 years ago, "That's All, Brother" led the main airborne invasion of Normandy. Piloted by Lt. Col. John Donalson, the plane led more than 800 C-47s that dropped over 13,000 paratroopers into battle. Donalson named the plane as a way of sending a message to Adolph Hitler that his days were numbered.

The first paratroopers, the Pathfinders, parachuted into Normandy a full hour ahead of the main airborne assault and six hours before the amphibious invasion hit the beaches. Once on the ground, their mission was to seize the drop zones and use special radio sets and signal lanterns to bring Allied aircraft onto the targeted areas.

"As you board the plane, I want you to think about those 17-, 18- and 19-year old boys who sat in the dark surrounded by horrible weather conditions," said Mitch Mitchell, retired U.S. Air Force colonel. "Imagine what must have been going through their minds as they prepared themselves to land behind German lines."

En route to the drop zone, the Rebecca-Eureka transponder system would be utilized as their primary navigational aid. The Eureka beacon was placed on the drop zone by pathfinders who jumped before "That's All, Brother" arrived.

Thick clouds, poor visibility and heavy ground fire resulted in mostly missed drops for the first wave of Pathfinders. Of those in the second wave that arrived within walking distance of their objectives, many were unable to locate their radio gear in time.

Others had lost their signal lanterns during the jump and had to rely on pocket flashlights. Yet despite these considerable setbacks, the airborne portion of Operation Overlord (the codename for the Battle of Normandy) succeeded in sowing confusion among the German forces.

"That's All, Brother" was the first plane to return from the mission. It would go on to fly during Operation Dragoon, Battle of the Bulge and a few secret missions. After the war, it was returned to the United States and sold to civilian owners. It eventually fell victim to neglect but was found in an Oshkosh, Wisconsin, boneyard in 2015, facing imminent disassembly.

The Commemorative Air Force launched a fundraising campaign to acquire and restore the Skytrain. It took more than 1,600 hours of metal corrosion work, essential wiring installation, major mechanical work, an engine overhaul, sourcing of WW II components and paint colors matched to the original for the plane to make its first commemorative flight in 2018.

"That's All, Brother" crossed the Atlantic again and returned to Normandy in 2019 to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.

The living history flight and aircraft tour experience on the "That's All, Brother" is a rare opportunity to strap in to the same seats those young heroic Pathfinders sat in so many years ago. Tours are available from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and flight reservations can be made at https://tinyurl.com/2a99rjvt.

Ground tours of the aircraft will be $5 per person (age 7 and up) and flights available for $249 per person.