Co-pilot Andy Maag gently adjusts the controls of the C-47 That’s All Brother. (Mike Jordan/BPE)
CULPEPER, VA. — In the pre-dawn hours of June 6, 1944, more than 800 C-47 transport airplanes crossed the English Channel to the coast of France and dropped 13,000 paratroopers behind enemy lines. That’s All Brother (a C-47 so-named as a pointed jab at Adolph Hitler) led the main airborne assault – kicking off the invasion of Normandy.
That’s All Brother would continue its wartime service in Operations Dragoon, Market Garden, Repulse, and Varsity, before returning to the United States in 1945. Sold soon after its return in the civilian market, the hardy workhorse which had spearheaded the Allied invasion of Western Europe slipped into obscurity as it passed from one set of hands to another. Its final destination was a conversion shop is Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
Thanks to some diligent research, an outpouring of financial help, and a huge degree luck, That’s All Brother was found and saved from a radical reconfiguration. Today, the completely restored aircraft is a member of the Texas Wing of the Commemorative Air Force.
That’s All Brother is currently here on the east coast, along with 60 other vintage warbirds, as part of the Arsenal of Democracy flyover of Washington, D.C. The heart-stirring event (which was set for Friday morning) has been rescheduled to take place today, Saturday September 26 – flying weather permitting.
We motored down to Culpeper, Virginia on Thursday morning (where the bulk of the planes are presently based) to be briefed on details of the upcoming flyover, and to take a 1-hour media ride aboard That’s All Brother.
Pilot Doug Rozendaal was at the controls when That’s All Brother made the boneyard flight to the Oshkosh several years ago. And as fate would have it, he would again be at the controls when the plane was eventually reborn.
“I’ve been flying DC-3’s (the civilian designation of the C-47) since 1986. I started out working part-time for a contractor that was hauling FedEx Freight. I’ve never made a living flying – that’s always been more my hobby.
“A friend of mine bought this airplane, and I trained him in it. Another pilot trained a couple of other guys in it, and we flew it around the mid-west in the air show circuit. It was in Vietnam colors then (DC-3 / C-47s served in Vietnam as gunships) and it was called “Puff.”
“Ultimately, the owner decided to sell it to Basler Turbo Conversions.
“He and I flew it to Oshkosh, where it was slated to become a turboprop conversion. That’s where they cut the airplane in half and stretch it about five feet and then fit it with modern turbine engines. For whatever reason, it never got converted.”
Though Rozendaal and others had piloted the plane at airshows, no one knew its wartime moniker.
“The plane’s true identity was discovered a couple times,” said Rozendaal. “Once by a guy in Arizona, and then again by a woman who was doing research about her dad, who was a crew member on this airplane. The woman contacted the Air Force Academy. They looked up the serial number and found it was in a boneyard in Wisconsin.
“When the Commemorative Air Force found out about it, we set out on our fundraising campaign. We raised the money to buy it, and then we went on a bigger fundraising campaign. That allowed us to restore it to basically brand new condition.”
Looking over the meticulous restoration of That’s All Brother, one can’t help but feel that the old warbird is essentially a flying museum. We asked Rozendaal if he felt that unique quality about the aircraft added any weight whenever he takes the helm?
“Well, anytime you’re flying these old airplanes, you feel you have a huge responsibility. With this one, you know, yes – more so. But when you’re actually flying it, you have to remember it’s a machine. And if you start making emotional decisions, rather than logical decisions, that clouds your judgment. So, when you’re flying the airplane, it’s an airplane, like any other.
“But when we’re standing here on the ramp, looking at this airplane on this particular day, it’s different. Thinking about what was going on in this country seventy-five years ago, and what we overcame in that five year period. It’s pretty emotional.
“An entire generation of men and women laid it all on the line seventy-five years ago, and that’s what we’re here in D.C. to commemorate.”
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Rozendaal paused as we were speaking, to welcome two additional passengers for our media flight: Purple Heart recipients Steven Curry of Nokesville, Virginia, and Adam Kisielewski – a Wisconsin native who now makes his home in Frederick, Maryland.
Both Curry and Kisielewski were seriously wounded while serving on the ground with our armed forces in Iraq.
“I am a former Marine Sergeant,” said Kisielewski. “I was an infantry guy; became a pilot after I got injured, then hooked up with Walt Fricke of the Veterans Airlift Command. Walt flies warbirds on the side. He’s got a lot of interest in those types of aircraft as well. Steven and I are both very excited to be down here today to the fly on one of the coolest historic airplanes still in service.”
Do the Marines still fly anything like the C-47?
“Not that I’m aware of,” cracked Kisielewski, “but actually, most of the Marine Corps equipment is not much newer than this.”
“I was an infantry squad leader in the army,” said Curry. “And I after I got injured, I met Adam. Adam was a pilot, and he piqued my interest in flying, so I went ahead and got my pilot’s license as well.
“As for being here for this flight, it just means a lot to be able to get exposed to stuff like this. It’s a part of history that a lot of people don’t know about or aren’t able to get exposed to the way we are experiencing it here today. And you know, coming from a military background, this is pretty important to me.”
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Restoring, maintaining and insuring iconic airplanes like That’s All Brother is a costly undertaking. This is especially true now, as the Covid-19 pandemic has severely effected air museums all across the country. Rozendaal said he was grateful so many planes were on hand for the Arsenal of Democracy event, but he noted many others who wanted to attend simply could not afford the trip.
Then why do it?
Before Rozendaal could answer this question, the joyful screams of half a dozen area children were heard in the distance. Some of the kids quickly made their way to the perimeter fence for a better look at the planes on the ground, while others admired the warbirds which were still aloft. All in the crowd waved at the returning airmen and appeared to be anxious to speak with the intrepid fliers.
Rozendaal and two of his crew members turned on their heels to go and greet the appreciative spectators – the pilot only pausing long enough to say to this reporter, “To answer your question: Do you see all those happy kids over there? THIS is why we do it.”
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2020 Arsenal of Democracy Flyover – Live from the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, September 26. Pre-event broadcast begins at 10:00am EDT with the flyover starting at the National Mall at 11:30am EDT. Event updates and live coverage may also be found on Facebook.
At 10:00 AM EDT we will present a video tribute including the rarest WWII aircraft and interviews with veterans participating in the Arsenal of Democracy. Unfortunately the weather is not going to safely allow the aircraft to fly today through Washington DC airspace. Since our authorization to fly through that restricted airspace will expire today, we won’t be able to reschedule the flying portion of the program.
We’re sorry we couldn’t put on the flyover we’d planned, however we hope you enjoy the program streaming on our YouTube and Facebook pages which includes footage of the aircraft, crews, and veterans involved in the Arsenal of Democracy event. We thank you all for your support and understanding.
We also would like to thank our presenting sponsors the Bob and Dolores Hope Foundation and Department of Defense.
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Anthony C. Hayes is an actor, author, raconteur, rapscallion and bon vivant. A one-time newsboy for the Evening Sun and professional presence at the Washington Herald, Tony’s poetry, photography, humor, and prose have also been featured in Smile, Hon, You’re in Baltimore!, Destination Maryland, Magic Octopus Magazine, Los Angeles Post-Examiner, Voice of Baltimore, SmartCEO, Alvarez Fiction, and Tales of Blood and Roses. If you notice that his work has been purloined, please let him know. As the Good Book says, “Thou shalt not steal.”