Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Found! Daughter of World War II Veteran Locates His Douglas C-47 in the Midwest, Part 3: The Journey to Find the Aircraft in St. Louis

By Carmelo Turdo
The story of Jenny Nunn Brawley's search for the Douglas C-47 her father, Major Thomas E. Nunn, flew in Europe during his USAAF service in World War II continues with a look at the aircraft and how it was found in the St. Louis area. The trail took some twists and turns along the way, but with tenacity and help from the aviation community around the world, she found the aircraft where it had been sitting idle for years. 

The aircraft found in St. Louis was discovered during the search for another Douglas C-47, Tug Boat Annie, flown by Major Nunn during the D-Day airborne assault and in support of Allied Forces in Holland as mentioned in Part 2 of this series. He was serving with the 76th Troop Carrier Squadron, part of the 435th Troop Carrier Group. Jenny Nunn Brawley tells the story in her own words:
The search for this plane started a while back when I started conversing with Hans den Brok in the Netherlands. He has written books about the Airborne Operations in WWII, especially Operation Market Garden (Holland invasion). He sent me a photograph of my Dad’s plane, Tug Boat Annie, that I had never seen. I asked him if there was any way to find out if that plane was still around. He traced it to Vietnam Airlines and it has seemingly dropped out of sight after 1971. So I put that behind me and never gave it another thought.

In recent months, she discovered a letter from her dad to her mother, Anabel, dated September 28, 1944. In this letter, written just following participation in Operation Market Garden in Holland, Major Nunn mentions that he received a new aircraft. It is also during this time that Tug Boat Annie, flown by another crew, was damaged by flak, injuring the radio operator. She found this passage in the letter:

 “I snatched a new airplane today – it’s a beauty with all the latest gadgets.  By the time I get all the homemade gadgets from Tug Boat Annie installed, I’ll have some “rigged-up” airplane.  The name is all settled – Miss Anabel Lee.”   

This new information was sent back to Hans den Brok, who continued to research the identity of the second aircraft. He researched war records from the 435th Troop Carrier Group and found the military serial number 43-48719 listed with Major Nunn and his crew. From there, the records of C-47B 43-48719, now civilian registered as DC-3C N68CW, were followed to the current owner and location. One twist to the story, however, was experienced when the current owner was identified as being within the Washington, D.C. area, a short commute. Jenny Nunn Brawley wrote a letter to the owner's business in September, but she did not receive a reply. She even went to several small airports in Maryland to look for it.  

Museum Open House, June 2012
She was back on the trail, searching the internet for the aircraft's civil registration and finding several more photos. Some of those photos were posted by The Aero Experience, showing the aircraft on the apron at St. Louis Downtown Airport. In that post, the DC-3 was being towed across the apron to the Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum for display at an open house event. Following confirmation that the aircraft was still in St. Louis (it had never been physically acquired by the new owner due to company financial difficulties and the large investment needed to make it commercially airworthy), Jenny Nunn Brawley contacted the previous owner and caretaker of the aircraft, Aviation Business Corporation, to set up a visit to St. Louis. Initial coverage of her visit to the aircraft was featured in Part 1 of this series.

CF-BXY getting repainted, Feb. 15, 1982, Fort St John,
British Columbia. (Photo courtesy of Stephen Aubury)
Records of the DC-3's service life following demobilization resume in the 1960s forward as N2768A, flying cargo in Canada and Alaska. In 1966 she was named Something Special.  She was owned briefly by a Colorado company and then an oil drilling company - Knight's Rathole Drilling. The aircraft was exported to Canada as CF-BXY and operated by North Cariboo Air in the early 1980s, transporting hunters to remote camps, and then to Sabourin Lake Airlines for freight operations. While with Sabourin Lake Airlines, she was pictured on a postcard in 1994. She was sold to an owner in Texas as N68CW in 1999, and was used to fly auto parts to factories in Mexico. The aircraft had been with the St. Louis owner since 2007, and as mentioned above, remains following its sale in 2016. It is currently again for sale, though it will take some investment to restore her for a ferry flight. 

Currently, the DC-3 remains at the north end of the apron at St. Louis Downtown Airport in faded North Cariboo Air colors. Below are some views of the aircraft over the last few years: 

Jenny Nunn Brawley visited St. Louis Downtown Airport to see her father's wartime aircraft on December 15. The Aero Experience was privileged to be a part of her visit and record these moments aboard the aircraft. It was an emotional experience for her to board the aircraft her father flew during the height of World War II, especially when seated in the cockpit's left pilot seat. It would take a little imagination to transform the faded Canadian airline colors into the olive drab of the USAAF's 76th Troop Carrier Squadron, and the interior airline seats into paratrooper benches. But it was not difficult to imagine that this very aircraft still retained the heart of Major Nunn's Miss Anabel Lee as it was known in 1944-1945. She spent some time just looking over the aircraft interior, sitting in the cockpit and passenger seats, probing for evidence of wartime service and learning about the modifications made over the years (such as removal of the radio operator's station). Here we show the visit aboard the aircraft that day: 


The aircraft was still set up in a sparse, utilitarian arrangement, able to transport people or cargo as needed. During the visit to the aircraft, Jenny Nunn Brawley wanted to capture some iconic moments of remembrance in these images to honor her father's wartime service: 

Following the tour of the aircraft, it was time for Jenny Nunn Brawley to close the cargo door and take another look around the aging Douglas DC-3 as it sat forlornly on the apron. The fading paint and missing elevators and ailerons were the more obvious condition problems, but these signs of wear also uncovered the scars of it's service to the nation and later with the civilian operators. Evidence of skin repairs and even a new right wing, nothing unusual for a workhorse DC-3, were visible to even to the casual observer. Flaws and all, she was beautiful in her own way. And this day, Jenny Nunn Brawley, daughter of Major Thomas E. Nunn of the 76th Troop Carrier Squadron, 435th Troop Carrier Group, found and climbed aboard Miss Anabel Lee.

The Aero Experience thanks Jenny Nunn Brawley, Aviation Business Corporation and those mentioned above who contributed historic information used to find Major Thomas E. Nunn's USAAF C-47B, Miss Anabel Lee. Check back soon for Part 4 of this series featuring Major Nunn's post war career and family life.


Elaine Marie Parker said...

Used to fly this aircraft for many hours while it was registered to North Cariboo Air. Was fortunate to Captain it with the first all female crew in the Expo 86 50th anniversary line a stern flyby. Lots of great memories (and hard working hours)on that aircraft. Elaine Parker

Unknown said...

I was fortunate enough to be a passenger on Elaine's flight in C-FBXY to Vancouver for the Expo 86 50th Anniversary DC-3 flyby with her all-female crew. I will be forever grateful to Elaine for including me in this experience.
John Mader
Calgary, Alberta

Unknown said...

Elaine - that is awesone!!!! Do you have any photos to share of the Expo 86 50th anniversay with this plane? Jenny Nunn Brawley

Unknown said...

I flew CF-BXY from 1980 to 1984.We worked in the oil patch,forest fire support and freight hall for a major airline,and much more. We hauled anything we could get in the door,from pinecones, fuel, drill pipe and many kinds of equipment and more. Working mostly in BC,Alberta and Saskaychewan.