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Cpl Biagio (Ben) Bennardi - HQ Co. 2nd Battalion

June, 1944 gave us the answer to all of our questions.

We were to take part in a massive operation, which would send us to France to invade the German stronghold in Europe. Our end of the overall plan was dubbed OPERATION NEPTUNE, the airborne invasion of France.

We were ordered to assemble in one of the hangars at the airbase where the entire plan was unfolded in front of us, it was massive.

The 508th initial objective was to take two bridges west of a town called Sainte-Mere-Eglise and destroy them, halting the German movement to the beaches from the west.

Then we were to move north toward the town of Cherbourg and seal it off, allowing further beach landings and re-supply.

The jump and invasion kept being postponed due to the weather in the channel. We had to co-ordinate with the ground forces making the landings on the beaches, so the weather was a big issue.

The treatment we received was fantastic. For the next week we ate like kings. We even slept on real folding cots. I began to think the army was treating us to good and that we were sure going to pay our dues for this nice stuff.

The night of June 5th, the orders came in that the operation was moving forward. We were alerted to prepare for action.

We gathered all our equipment, parachutes and weapons, mounted up, assembled in our assigned stick, and then boarded the plane assigned to carry us to the target. There was hundreds of C.47s everywhere, all around the airbase.

Thousands of men, suited up like myself, stood in line and boarded their planes heading for France.

We taxied out, the engines ran up and with a bumpy ride down the runway, we were airborne and off to the target. Once airborne we joined what looked like the entire Air Force and flew to France together.

The ride was tight with all of the equipment I had on, but I was used to it.We trained for this, so to me it was like any other jump. I did not think too much about what I was about to do, only that I wanted to get out of the plane as soon as the light was green.

Not long after we passed over the shore of France, the flak and anti-aircraft guns started. The bursts were very heavy.

One of the guys looked out the window and went into a panic. We rallied round him and sat him back down.

I refused to look out. I didnít want to see what we were flying through, feeling it, was enough.The bursts were all around us.The plane bobbed up and down to avoid whatever it could.The sound of metal hitting the planes skin from the flak burst was all throughout the plane.

I was scared as hell and was saying the rosary without holding the rosary.

We dropped down real low to about 600 feet avoiding the AA guns of the Germans, which were everywhere.It was then that we got the order to stand up and hook up, and do our last minute checks.

We were going.

The door was opened the light was green and we left the plane.I was number 13 out the door; I never thought 13 to be an unlucky number after that.

Immediately after I left the safety of the C-47, I was totally exposed to the massive amount of AA fire coming from the ground. There were tracers flying all around me, planes all above me, parachutes all over the night sky.It was lit up with sparks from the Germans shooting in every direction possible.

All I could think was how fast could I drop on the ground.

When I landed, I was in an open field near a hedgerow. It was totally dark and I didnít see any other parachutes from my company, or any other friendly soldiers anywhere around me.

It was then I thought to myself, "WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING HERE?"

I was exhausted and crawled into a hedgerow that night hoping not to get caught.

A few hours later it was daylight.

I had fallen asleep, so I crawled out and began to sneak around hoping to find another trooper, or at least make contact with American forces.

I travelled from hedgerow to hedgerow, staying low to avoid being found by the Germans. At times I could hear them on the other side of the hedgerow, they were very close to me.

It was some time in the afternoon when I met another guy from my outfit. We were so happy to see each other. From that time on we kept together, if we were brothers we couldnít have been closer than we were.

We kept moving east towards the beach, not knowing what was ahead of us, and looking for more troops from our unit. Thatís when we came across a group of troopers from the 508th. It just so happened that our Battalion commander, LT COL Thomas J. B. Shanley was in the group. As we moved forward, the group got bigger and bigger until we were a fighting unit.

Our orders has changed by then.

We were re-assigned to assemble on a hill west of the Merderet River and form a strong point to prevent German penetration from the west side of the La Fiere Bridge. This was known as Hill 30.

This is when the colonel took one look at me, and ordered me to remain with him as his personal bodyguard. From then on, at no time was I allowed to leave his side. I carried a Thompson machine gun as I was originally a mortar squad leader, but since I was now separated, according to the colonel, I was available for the job.

Once assembled on the hill, Shanley ordered us to establish a perimeter around the hill and we dug in.

The counter attack by the Germans was intense and seemed never ending. It went on for 3 days, sometimes for hours at a time. At one point they attacked us from 3 directions. Time after time, we held and drove them back of the hill.

This is where I earned my Bronze Star Medal.

I was defending the colonel while he was directing the men at each side. A German soldier got close enough to sight the colonel, and raised his rifle to shoot him. I saw this in time; I stepped in front of the colonel and fired a burst at the German killing him instantly. I didn't think that action was worth a medal, but apparently the colonel did. He felt if I had not stepped in front of the German. He would have been shot for sure.

We finally drove back the Germans enough times that they gave up the fight and broke contact. We were very low on ammo, food and medical supplies so the timing could not have been better.

The bridgehead was established and we were reinforced on the 13th June.

We were ordered to move south into the town of Baupte. This was a major assault on the village that was occupied by a larger German Battalion. They must have been preparing for a counter-attack as we caught them with their pants down. We hit them hard, took out some tanks and other armor and sent the rest of them running.

After all was said and done, we took a lot of prisoners, as well as tanks, equipment and more importantly supplies, which we took back to reinforce our troops behind us.

After the action I saw on Hill 30, Baupte was almost too easy. I was thankful it was.

I got a look at a German Tiger Tank up close and I was happy I did not have to face it in combat. It was big, bigger than our Shermanís and carried the 88mm flak gun on the turret. That gun could shoot through anything we had. If the Germans wanted to, they could target a single soldier with that gun, it was so accurate.

To overrun Baupte that quick was a gift for us.

Our next orders had us push west from Baupte across the Cotentin Peninsular and capture Hill 131. The action on Hill 131 was fairly heavy, but we knew that we had beaten back the Germans enough and we could take it without too much trouble.

It was there that Colonel Shanley was nearly killed after he tripped on a German booby trap. I was moving but slightly behind when it happened. The explosion was directly to my left and between us. It was big enough to blow me of my feet and onto my back before I even knew what happened.When the smoke cleared, Shanley lay there wounded, but thankfully not gravely.

One of the other soldiers shouted for a medic that responded very quickly, and Shanley was evacuated.

What I did think was ironic about the accident, was that Shanley always told us to look down and be careful of booby traps. Now there he was being carried away from the battlefield after setting one off. I never knew what happened to him after that as I was assigned to a new duty other than being his bodyguard.

A month after I arrived on the ground in France, we finished in Baupte, and made our way back to the Normandy beaches to hop a ride back to England.

We went across the channel in a small LST boat that was used to carry supplies to France from England so it was a little cramped.

When we left England on the night of 5th June, the 508th were approximately 2,100 men. When we got back we were just a little more than 900, the rest were killed, wounded or taken prisoner.      

When we arrived back at our base camp in Nottingham, England, we were given the rest we needed and appreciated.

It was there that I received the Bronze Star. I was so proud of it, but I still wondered if I had done anything more than anyone else to deserve that medal. But if the Colonel said I deserved it, then I did.

Nottingham was a nice place and the local people took very good care of us. As the days and weeks passed by, our boys that were left in France started coming back. You can rest assured they were received with open arms.

We talked for days about what we saw, where we landed and who we ended up with. Some of us were absorbed in other outfits like the 101st and fought with them, others stayed in small pockets from their stick and fought the Germans alone. It was amazing.

I guess I was one of the lucky ones, I landed somewhere close to where I was supposed to be.

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