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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.