C-47 "Ride-Along"


"Airborne Experience"

We are now able to offer a new "ride-along" Airborne experience. Individuals will be allowed to go "Airborne" along with jump team members on a C47 flight.  Hear and feel what it's like to ride in a WWII vintage aircraft and watch the troops dressed in WWII uniforms and equipment "Stand Up & hook Up".

To learn more about this opportunity contact us at: operations_@_wwiiadt.org










Donald L Merlie

 Born:                             February 1922            

Enlistment date:            23 Jan 1941     Chanute Field, Illinois

Deployments:                Europe

Units:                             301st Troop Carrier Squadron, 441st Troop Carrier Group

Rank:                            Lieutenant

Specialisations:             Pilot


Decorations:                  Air Medal, World War II Victory Medal, Good Conduct Medal, EAME Theater Medal with 2 Bronze Stars, Presidential Unit Citation, , Purple Heart.

 Discharge Date:            Sep 1945

 Other Information:      Don served as a pilot in the U.S. Army Corps from January 1941 to December 1945.  “I was always drawing airplanes in school,” he said. Don graduated from Westville High School and didn’t want to go to college so he drove to Rantoul and enlisted at Chanute Field in the Army Air Corps, the predecessor of today’s Air Force, on Jan. 23, 1941.

After basic training at Chanute, Don went on to technical school, where he became an instructor. “I remember it was hot in Texas,” he said. “It got to 110 degrees once.” Later Don decided to take the cadet test to get into flight training and he passed the test and was sent to Kelly Field in Texas to begin flight school and to Corsicana, Texas, for flight training. “We learned to fly in Thunderbolt P-17 trainers,” he said. “In flight training about one third of the class would ‘washout.’”

Don even recalls his tells first plane crash. “I was flying with an instructor,” he says. “We were at 200 feet and the engine quit. We were too low to make a turn, so we just went straight, hit the ground and turned over.”Both Don and the instructor walked away from the crash without any serious injury. “The next day another instructor took me up and shut off the engine to see if I would panic,” Don recalled. “I didn’t, so I was cleared to go flying again.”

Don remembered the closest he came to “washing out” was when he was flying with a squadron and the weather turned bad. He was second in line to land, but the pilot ahead of him hesitated a little and Don thought it would be too dangerous for him to pull up, so he landed side by side with the plane ahead of him. “I got chewed out,” Don said. “But I explained that I had plenty of room beside the other plane and it would have been more dangerous for me to pull up. Nothing more was said and I went back to flying.” Don recalls the method for selecting pilots for advanced training as either a fighter pilot or a bomber pilot. “We stood in a line, ranging from tallest to shortest,” he explained. “The shorter pilots were chosen for single engine fighter pilot training and the taller ones were sent to twin engine bomber training.” Needless to say, Don went to bomber training. “We trained in Cessna AT-17 Bobcats,” Don said. “They were nicknamed ‘bamboo bombers’ because they were so flimsy.”

In July 1943, Don graduated from advanced flight training at Brooks Field, Texas.
 “We were flying to build up our experience and our flying hours,” Don recalled. In January 1944 while stationed in Sedalia, Mo., Don signed out a plane. “I told the flight officer I wanted to ‘buzz’ my hometown,” he said.  So Don found himself a co-pilot and navigator and made the flight from Missouri to Westville IL. “I remember ‘buzzing’ my parent’s house at about treetop level,” he explained. “Then I flew over the old Bunsenville mine where my father was working. My dad was down in the mine and didn’t get to see me, but all of his co-workers knew it was me and told him.”

In England Don was stationed at an airfield near Nottingham. There he practiced night flying in preparation for D-Day. On D-Day Don transported paratroopers to their drop zone near St. Mere Eglise. “We flew at 1,500 feet and when we were ready to make our drop, we would get down to 500 feet,” he explained. “We made a good drop and only lost one plane in our group.”


After D-Day, Don mainly flew supply missions, transporting gasoline and ammunition to supply the troops, until September 1944, when he was part of Operation Market Garden. Don flew as co-pilot with Lt Earl Peters as part of a nine-plane squadron that would drop paratroopers near the town of Nijmegen. The goal was to take the bridges before the Germans could blow it up. Don was 1½ miles from the drop zone when his plane was hit by antiaircraft gun fire. “The first shell hit our right engine and knocked it out,” he said. “The second shell hit between me and the radio operator and the plane caught fire.”

“We were at 500 feet so we decided we had better drop the paratroopers right away and then look for a place to set down,” he explained. After the paratroopers had jumped, Don’s’s plane landed on a small hill in Holland. “We all made it out,” he said.  As they were exiting the plane, Don discovered the radio operator’s foot was injured. “It was just hanging on by the skin,” he recalled.

They carried the radio operator away and left the crew chief with him while the rest of the crew went in search of a medic. For the next week, Don and his crew stayed with the paratroopers until they caught a truck ride to Brussels and then a flight back to England.

After leaving the service, Merlie enrolled in the University of Illinois and went on to receive his law degree there. He retired from legal practice in 2008. His current passion is now quail hunting. “I really enjoyed my time in the service,” said he said. “I liked all the guys I served with.”