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John Munnerlyn Donalson


Gen. Donalson was the 2nd person inducted into the Alabama Aviation Hall of Fame.
WW2 was 438th Troop Carrier Group Commander. Command Pilot of C-47 Skytrain 42-92847 'That's All Brother' of 87th Troop Carrier Squadron, 438th Troop Carrier Group, 9th AF. Lead ship of Mission Albany the air dropping of 6600 US paratroops into Normandy, France on the eve of D-Day. Also flew the "Bell of Birmingham" C-47. Georgia Institute of Technology graduate. Engineer with Tennessee Coal and Iron in Birmingham, AL. Joined National Guard in Alabama as Observation Pilot Trainee. Graduated Flight School in Texas with Charles Lindberg in 1925. Became Commander of National Guard unit in 1939. Was activated for regular service and became a Base Commander of several USAAF bases before going to England. Flew the lead plane on the Normandy D-Day invasion as well as many other paratroop drops, glider drops and supply drops. After WW2 he became Chief of Staff for the Alabama State Governor and when the Air Force became a separate branch of service as USAF in 1948 he became founding Commander of the Alabama Air National Guard. Upon retirement from Service he founded Tennessee Forging Steel Corp. in Chattanooga with son-in-law Alabama Air National Guard pilot Major Donald Lewis using a patent he had as an Engineer for a new Continuous Casting Process. After another successful career in the Steel Industry and in business he finally retired. Later, in old age and poor health he died in Birmingham, Alabama where he is buried. He was a successful engineer, military man, aviator, inventor, and business founder and executive. He was truly one of the greatest of the Greatest Generation."



  • 42-92847 'That's All Brother'

    C-47 Skytrain
    Lead aircraft of Mission Albany the US airborne drop on the eve of D-Day. Led 432 aircraft dropping 6,600 paratroopers behind enemy lines on the Cotentin Peninsula of Normandy. ...

Associated Place

  • Greenham Common

    Military site : airfield
    Built for the RAF in 1942 as an Operational Training Unit, it was handed over to the Eighth Air Force in 1942, and was the 51st Troop Carrier Wing's HQ in 1942. Greenham Common became a Ninth Air Force base in 1943, and was then home to a series of...


Event Location Date


Date Contributor Update
12 June 2016 19:09:12 bobthomas Changes to middlename, nickname, highest rank, biography and awards

Major General John Munnerlyn Donalson - USAF
John Donalson was a truly exceptional man who excelled in all endeavors. He was an inventor, an engineer/scientist, an accomplished manager, a successful entrepreneur, a leader of men, a loving father, a dedicated husband, a pioneer aviator and military commander. His flying career began with WWI vintage biplanes and ended with jet fighters. He was the second trained pilot in the state and was among the first inductees into the Alabama Aviation Hall of Fame, (along with Orville and Wilbur Wright who ran the nation’s first flight school at Maxwell Field). His successful military and business careers spanned half a century.
Gen. Donalson graduated from the Georgia Institute of Technology with a degree in Electrical Engineering. He was an ROTC student and received his commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Flying Service. In 1924 he began flight training at Brook Field, Texas where he earned his wings in January 1925 along with Charles A. Lindbergh. Their flight instructor was Nate Twining. who later became Air Force Chief of Staff and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Donalson returned to Birmingham as a member of the 106th Observation Squadron, operated a flight training school, and was appointed Alabama’s first Director of Aeronautics by Gov. Bibb Graves. He later became commander of the 1st Bomb Squadron at Langley Field, Virginia and then on to 1st Air Force Command Staff at Mitchell Field, New York. After several Base Commander positions in Florida, Nebraska, and Missouri, he became Commander of the 438th Troop Carrier Group. His Group trained with Airborne Troops in North Carolina before leaving for England. Gen. Matthew Ridgeway selected Donalson to lead the D-Day Invasion because he was impressed by the precision of his flyers during paratroop training drops. On June 5, 1944, after synchronizing watches with Gen. Dwight Eisenhower at the field, Donalson then took off and flew the lead plane of his 81 plane group into Normandy, France. He dropped the 82nd Airborne before midnight near St. Mere-Eglise and returned to base in England to tow troop gliders over the invasion area. Afterward, he flew supplies into Omaha Beach and brought back wounded. Donalson had command participation in all major Airborne Operations in Europe.
After the war John Donelson returned to Birmingham to establish the Air National Guard and became the first Commanding General/Chief of Staff. He later was promoted to Major General by Gov. James Folsom and was appointed Chief of Staff for the State of Alabama (both Army and Air National Guards). Gen. Donalson retired from military service in 1961.
After military retirement, General Donalson put his engineering and management talents to work in Industry. He began his major business career in management at Connor Steel Company. He later moved to Virginia to head up operations in building the first commercially operated continuous casting unit in the United States at Roanoke Electric Steel Co. Upon bringing the new mill on line, and under his guidance and direction the companies' production increased 60% and profits soared.
Donalson then moved on to Tennessee where he established Tennessee Forging Steel and served as company president and chairman. At TFS he built from the ground up one of the first mills in the world to be completely dependent upon the
continuous casting process. This continuous casting machine was of his own design. No other like it existed in the world. In record time the large plant was producing. Income was good, debt overhead was being reduced, and the business was financially sound. As his company grew and prospered, the mill was enlarged, capacity was increased, and several additional mills were built in other Southern locations.
Gen. Donalson had a reputation of honesty and trust. Subscribing to the belief of free enterprise and a profit sharing plan for his employees, he added to the productivity and prosperity of our country.
John Munnerlyn Donalson was blessed with a wonderful family. His wife, Blanche Morris Donelson, was a member of one of Birmingham’s Pioneer families of Mayors, bank founders, and utility industrialists (all buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in downtown Birmingham). Their daughter is Beverly Donelson Lewis is married to Major Donald C. Lewis
An exhibit featuring Gen. Donalson's distinguished life can be
seen at the Southern Museum of Flight at the Birmingham Airport

Date Contributor Update
22 June 2015 22:22:31 Al_Skiff Created entry with surname, middlename, firstname, nationality, highest rank, role, biography, unit associations, place associations, aircraft associations and media associations