BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - In the early morning hours of June 6th 1944, some 800 aircraft dropped thousands of paratroopers onto the beaches of occupied France, launching the D-Day invasion. Those planes were led by a C-47 Skytrain, that was flown by a pilot from Alabama. Newly painted across its nose was a message to Adolf Hitler “That’s All Brother.”
Now you have a chance to see that historic aircraft up close. The plane is on display this weekend only, at the Southern Museum or Flight. The plane is touring the south and east coast, before flying to Normandy for the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.
“It’s just a really cool piece of history, a really cool piece of local history and certainly world history,” says director of the museum Dr. Brian Barsanti.
It’s not the only piece of history on display.
The pilot, Lt. Col John Donalson, returned to Alabama after the war. In fact, he’s buried not too far away from the museum. His family has donated several artifacts from the war to the museum, including his military issued watch.
“This is the watch he was wearing on D-day,” explains Dr. Barsanti. “This was the watch he was wearing that he had synchronized with Dwight Eisenhower.”
The watch and artifacts are a part of the permanent collections at the museum. The plane however will only be here until April 14th.
Dr. Barsanti says it’s amazing opportunity for the community to connect with world history, but also a local hero.
“You can tour the aircraft, even fly in the aircraft and see other pieces of local history tied to that significant piece of American history,” says Barsanti.
It’s an opportunity that was almost lost. 70 years after dropping the first fighting forces into Normandy, The Douglas C-47 Skytrain was almost converted to a BT-67 turboprop. A historian with the U.S Air Force Reserve stumbled upon it at a Wisconsin yard. He went to work to save the plane, desperate to find a museum or organization willing to save it. That’s when the Commemorative Air Force stepped in.
The plane was refurbished back to its original glory, in the same way it would have been done 75 years ago, and it still flies.
“The stripes on the wings are a little crooked, that’s because they were painted with a roller, the same way they would have been,” explains Lt. Col. Mike Adams. He’s the commander of the 106th Air refueling squadron.
It’s the same squadron that Lt. Col Donalson was a part of.
“We are very proud of our history in this unit, so it gives us a chance to reflect on that history. Today we are here to honor the actions of Donalson and his crew,” says Lt. Col. Adams.
After the war, Lt. Col. Donalson was instrumental in reactivating the 106th in Birmingham. He also became the 117th group commander, and was a founding father of the air national guard in Alabama.
That history, is something Lt. Col. Adams is proud to share.
“It lets us tie together our past and our present, and when you do that it ties us to the future. We are committed to being the best air refueling unit and I think you do that by remembering where you came from,” says Adams.
If you want to see “That’s All Brother” up close, come to the Southern Museum of Flight April 12th, 13th and 14th. Tours of the plane are included in the cost of museum admission. Flights are an additional cost. You can find out more about the flights and other events surrounding the aircraft this weekend here.