Thursday, June 5, 2014

D-Day Pilot Dick Brown Remembers . . .

l-r Dick Brown and Joe Farrell with their Martin B-26 Marauder bomber
Photo courtesy Richard Brown

June 6, 1944, retired Northwest Airlines Captain Dick Brown participated in the D-Day invasion, a significant turning point for Allied forces in WW II.

Today, 70 years later, his memory of that day is crystal clear.

"We knew something was up," Dick said.  "We heard this huge racket around midnight.  We all ran outside and looked up.  The sky was full of C-47's (DC-3's) towing gliders.  We went back to bed. A couple of hours later they woke us up again and by 5 a.m. we were taking off from our base in England in lousy weather - 500 ft. ceiling and raining.  We had to form up under the clouds, then climbed up in formation to on top, which was about 11,000 ft.  During climb we lost two aircraft when the leader made a turn, they lost sight of us and crashed into each other.  When we came out on top it was daylight, so we tried to regroup and join with other aircraft. Over the channel we found a hole in the clouds and descended down to 1500 ft. to get under the cloud layer. The channel was full of ships as far as we could see. We headed for our target on Utah Beach and we could see landing craft about 1/4 mile off shore. I felt sorry for them because they would be digging a foxhole in the sand while I would be back in my bunk on dry land.  We got shot at by ground fire but didn't lose any aircraft over the target so we headed home."

Dick's bomb group moved to southern England in July and then to Normandy in August to an air field just inland from Omaha Beach.   "I had two crash landings, but both times the whole crew survived them.  Had the nose shot off twice, and at least three times they counted over 100 holes from flak," Dick recalls.

He flew 66 missions, the last on September 12, 1944.

"I arrived back in the states in October, 1944, and after some R&R at home I spent the winter towing targets for B-24's out of Harlingen Texas. There were seven W.A.S.P.'s in the outfit and they were great pilots," he said.
"I was discharged in May, 1945 at Fort Snelling and went over to Northwest Airlines to apply for a pilot job. They told me it would be a couple of months and I got a call from them in August."

Thus began his 36-year career  as an airline pilot. Dick started in the DC-3 and spent the last seven years of his NWA career flying the Boeing 747.  Along the way he flew, and thankfully survived, the ill-fated Martin 202, which was Martin's attempt to capture the commercial aviation market after WW II.  Note: The Martin B-26 Marauder bomber Dick flew during the war was the precursor to the 202.
Dick Brown today - full of vim, vigor (and stories)  at 92 years of age.
Photo Anne Kerr

Oh yes. Joe Farrell (photo on top of page) and Dick were reunited at Northwest Airlines a year after they returned from the war. Dick was hired a month before Joe, so he was senior to him, which provided endless ribbing over the years.  Joe Farrell died in 2005. Stay tuned for more Dick Brown stories in future posts.

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