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The Aero Experience is a celebration of Midwest aviation and aerospace achievement. We invite you to join us as we explore the treasures of Midwest aviation through first-hand experiences. Our contributors take turns flying lead, and we are always looking for new destinations. Check in with The Aero Experience frequently to see where we will land today, and then go out and have your own aero experiences!

Blue skies,

Carmelo Turdo, Mark Nankivil and Fred Harl - The Aero Experience Team

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Found! Daughter of World War II Veteran Locates His Douglas C-47 in the Midwest, Part 2: Major Thomas E. Nunn

By Carmelo Turdo
Jenny Nunn Brawley's search for her father's World War II-era C-47B transport aircraft, as introduced in Part 1 of this series, was more than just a curiosity about a 74-year-old warbird. The aircraft is a tangible part of the wartime service of Major Thomas E. Nunn, who in this and similar aircraft, flew critical missions to help liberate much of Europe. He served as a glider tow and resupply cargo plane pilot with the 76th Troop Carrier Squadron of the 435th Troop Carrier Group for the Allied D-Day Invasion of Normandy, the Invasion of Southern France, the airborne assault on German forces in Holland, the resupply of Allied forces in Belgium and the rescue of Allied forces during the Battle of the Bulge. Major Nunn served as the squadron Operations Officer and held a group staff assignment during those critical years of the war. He was also a devoted newlywed, who kept his bride informed of his situation as much as possible with frequent letters.  

Thomas E. Nunn was commissioned as a U.S. Army Reserve 2Lt on May 27, 1940 following college graduation. He first served at a Fourth Corps Quartermaster depot and was recommended for further active duty the following year after receiving an "Excellent" review. He was promoted to 1Lt in February of 1942 and transferred to the U.S. Army Air Forces in March. He went to flight training and received his wings in November of that year.

During this time, the U.S. involvement in World War II was ramping up, and the need for air transport of Allied invasion forces for future operations was being addressed with the activation of the 76th Troop Carrier Squadron at Bowman Field, KY. The squadron had several stateside stations in 1943, including Sedalia Army Air Field, MO, Pope Field, NC and Baer Field, IN, before making the move to RAF Langer, England in November. During this training period, Thomas Nunn married his sweetheart, Anabel, on July 25, 1943. Newly promoted Captain Thomas Nunn was then involved in the overseas migration of a squadron of Douglas C-53 and C-47 cargo planes - a significant achievement for these young pilots. But after making stops in West Palm Beach, FL, Puerto Rico, Trinidad, Brazil and Marrakech, the squadron was in place.

In early 1944, the squadron moved again to RAF Welford Park, where it would remain for about a year. Thomas Nunn was now a Major, and as Squadron Operations Officer he had been involved in preparing the crews for what would become major combat operations. Though he was flying a little less than in previous months, Major Nunn did name his C-47 Tug Boat Annie and flew in an aerial salute to General Eisenhower and Prime Minister Winston Churchill in April of that year.      

A series of epic battles was coming quickly for the 76th TCS, and Major Nunn was at the forefront of the operations. First was Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of France. He was briefing officer for the first of a series of crew meetings starting on June 2, 1944, and sounded the order to prepare for takeoff the night of June 5. Major Nunn flew in the lead aircraft of the next wave of glider tow formations on the evening of June 6th, returning in the early hours of the morning. Resupply missions were flown later in the month, the aircraft returning with the wounded troops. 

Major Nunn, sitting, with his crew in 1944
By mid-July, the squadron detached to Tarquinia Airfield, Italy to prepare for the next operation: the Allied Invasion of Southern France. During that time, the 76th TCS was attached to the Provisional Troop Carrier Air Division under the direct command of Lt. General Ira Eaker, who visited the base August 7. On August 15, 1944, Major Nunn led a glider towing formation in what was codenamed Operation Bluebird. This mission was cancelled as it approached the landing zone, and the formation returned to base. Another similar but complete mission was flown later that day. The 435h TCG was unique in towing the British Horsa gliders, a challenging mission completed through the sheer skill of the C-47 and British glider crews. On August 16, Major Nunn flew on Operation Eagle, flying the Number 10 position on a "milk run" parachute resupply mission to southern France. Then it was back to RAF Welford Park, and resupply missions to Allied troops in Belgium. 

It wasn't long until the next major campaign, Operation Market Garden, began with the airborne assault into Holland. On three consecutive days, September 17-19, 1944, Major Nunn flew glider tow and resupply missions, and the 76th TCS continued to support the operation. Tug Boat Annie was hit with flak on one mission, injuring the radio operator. It was during this period that he received a new plane, which he named Miss Anabel Lee, again after the bride he left behind over a year prior. The new aircraft, and the new name, were mentioned in a letter to Anabel dated September 28, 1944:
        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 aircraft, C-47B serial number 43-48719, is the subject of his daughter's recent search that led her to St. Louis last month. The visit of Jenny Nunn Brawley to see the aircraft in its current location will be covered in more detail in Part 3 of this series.

The 76th TCS continued to fly resupply missions through October and November, and Major Nunn was able to get a few days leave and some travel to Paris on squadron business. He writes in a November 15th letter: "My crew chief had a little taxi accident with Anabel Lee this morning. She will be 'out' for a few days for a new wing." 

In December 1944 he was transferred to 435th Troop Carrier Group staff, and was involved with new mission planning for the group. He writes that he sees the end of the line for the C-47 class aircraft, and he was checked out in other aircraft types such as the B-24. In late December, crews of the 76th TCS participated in emergency resupply missions of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge, saving Allied forces from encirclement and defeat during the German counterattack. Miss Anabel Lee was flown by other crews during these missions, and came back safely each time. The squadron was redeployed to Bretigny-sur-Orne, France in February of 1945 to support Allied forces sweeping through Germany until the end of hostilities in Europe. Demobilization quickly brought the squadron stateside, and the 76th TCS was deactivated in November. Major Nunn was discharged from active duty December 7, 1945 and later flew for a major airline.

We will pick up the story of Jenny Nunn Brawley's search for her father's aircraft in Part 3 of this series coming soon on The Aero Experience. As mentioned previously, she located and visited one of these aircraft, formerly known as Miss Anabel Lee, in St. Louis in December. Here are a few photos included in honor of her father, Major Thomas E. Nunn:

1 comment:

Trent Duff said...

Very interesting, and a great tribute to a brave and dedicated pilot-soldier.