April 13, 2021

Iowa man pilots historic C-47 in 75th anniversary of D-Day

‘The Great Crusade’

1 of 2

Growing up as a farm kid in Iowa, Doug Rozendaal was always fascinated by airplanes.

“I can remember as a young kid sitting on a tractor watching airplanes fly over, and I’ve always just been drawn to airplanes,” Rozendaal said.

In fact, his obsession with flight started even before he can remember. His uncle took him on an airplane ride when he was 2 or 3 years old, and it was all the young boy could think about.

“I don’t remember but my mother would tell you that I never stopped talking about airplanes after that,” he said.

Rozendaal was born in Grinnell and grew up on a farm in the Sully area. As a farm kid, it wasn’t just the flying that had him enamored. He was fascinated by the machinery of it, in the same way he was interested in big tractors, trucks and motorcycles.

He received his pilot certificate during his late teens, after his family had moved to State Center. While running a business in Mason City, he received his first aviation job in 1986, flying freight at night part time in old C-47s and Beech 18s when FedEx established an overnight service in the area.

Rozendaal became involved in the Commemorative Air Force and has been flying planes for the organization for nearly 30 years. He is currently the chairman of the board of the CAF and has flown many different planes for the agency. He said before he started flying these airplanes, he didn’t truly understand their place in history. Flying the airplanes is what made it click for him.

“The airplanes are what got me to understand. I was one of those people who didn’t know the stories, didn’t understand and didn’t really have a concept of what happened in World War II. I have since become passionate about keeping those memories alive,” he said.

Rozendaal’s current project for the CAF is helping commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day by flying the C-47 “That’s All … Brother” back to Normandy.

“This particular C-47 was the lead aircraft in the D-Day invasion,” Rozendaal said. “There were other C-47s launched the day before for pathfinder missions, but when the actual invasion began, this very airplane was the first one launched — loaded with paratroopers who jumped into France in the dark and fog, and an unknown fate, during the early morning hours of June 6.”

Despite its place in American history, the aircraft was nearly lost before its origins were discovered. Rozendaal’s first contact with the aircraft was when his friend owned the plane. He helped teach him how to fly with it, all before knowing its history. When his friend sold it to Basler Turbo Conversions, it was slated to be cut up and rebuilt as a new turbine airplane.

The CAF rescued the plane from the bone yard three years ago after discovering its history with the D-Day invasion. Rozendaal said once the CAF purchased the plane, they had it restored it to original specifications.

“I would argue that its one of the most historically significant airplanes flying in America today. The Enola Gay is in a museum, the Spirit of St. Louis is in a museum, on and on and on; these historically significant airplanes are in a museum,” Rozendaal said. “This one is actually out flying. Airplanes can tell a much bigger story and have a bigger impact when they can travel, and we can take them to the people.”

The trek back to Normandy is already underway, with a portion of the 15 C-47’s taking off from Oxford, Conn., May 19. When Rozendaal spoke to the Newton Daily News May 21, he was in Reykjavik, Iceland, awaiting the next leg of the flight. He said the flight was “fantastic.” They still had to fly to Prestwick, Scotland, before arriving at Duxford in the U.K. to prepare for the Normandy mission.

“That’s All … Brother” along with 26 other transports will commemorate the 75th anniversary in a paratrooper drop over Normandy, France. The airplane will travel from there to Germany where it will commemorate the Berlin airlift before returning to France to participate in the Paris Air Show. Rozendaal will be at the controls for most of the journey.

“To take this airplane back to Normandy on the 75th anniversary of D-Day is just incredible,” he said. “It’s a tremendous honor to be a part of it and it’s really telling and significant that we are able to do this.”

Rozendaal notes the 75th anniversary will be the last significant milestone where actual D-Day veterans will be present.

“Our job is to keep those stories alive, and we use the excitement of these airplanes to draw people to them so hopefully they will reach out and maybe learn more about what happened and the sacrifice and the courage of that generation to do whatever it took to preserve freedom and our way of life,” he said.

Rozendaal has participated in other ceremonial flights in his years with the CAF. In 2015, he was in the Arsenal of Democracy flight over the National Mall in Washington, D.C. He flew in the missing man formation and was the plane that flew out of formation to salute the fallen. He also remembers flying over Jimmy Doolittle’s funeral in 1993 at Arlington Cemetery.

He takes pride in his work with the CAF. It is the largest flying museum in the world with 12,000 members and 170 airplanes all across the country. Rozendaal said they fly these airplanes to honor, inspire and educate.

It was clear Rozendaal is passionate about preserving aviation history by taking part in these events all over the United States and overseas. However his connection to Central Iowa remains firm with Rozendaal’s parents, Ed and Mary, both residing in Newton at Park Centre. That’s where the interest in flying was sparked, something he has carried with him his entire life.

“This is a pretty incredible and a great experience for a farm kid from Iowa to be flying this airplane in this historic anniversary,” Rozendaal said.

Contact Pam Pratt at 641-792-3121 ext. 6530 or pampratt@newtondailynews.com