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Operation Luftwaffe - Tragedy at Reims - 14 March 1945

   Qualification jumps were executed periodically as certification of jump status.  All units of the 82nd Airborne Division, including the 508th PIR, were scheduled to participate in the Reims jump which was slated to go in two flights.
   The 1st Battalion and Regimental Headquarters Company were scheduled for takeoff in the morning while the 2nd Battalion would go in the afternoon.   Before dawn the 1st Battalion was en route to the Reims airfield where they would be issued their chutes and equipment bundles before boarding the now familiar C-47 aircraft.
   As the 42-plane formation began to sweep over the designated drop zone, the men were streaming from the aircraft and the sky filled with chutes of approximately 450 men.
   At what could be called the worst possible moment, one of the trailing C-47s suddenly lost it's starboard propeller.   Already flying at decreased airspeed to accommodate the jumpers needs, the aircraft was unable to recover on its single operating engine.  The rapidly sinking aircraft cut a swath through the parachutists in its path.
   One after another, parachutes were draped over the wings of the aircraft and their cargo were cemented against the metal as the stricken  C-47 plunged to the ground. Another paratrooper's chute was snagged by the tail and he rode it to the ground.  Surprisingly he survived.  His parachute can be seen still draped over the tail in the photos, below.

Stedman's Stick
[Standing l-r]: Sgt Worster M. Morgan, Thomas H. Plemon, Robert W. Peterson, James Rankin, (either Mark Bradley or Mayo Heath), Fred Robbins, Alfred J. Vaughn, James E. Kulmer,
[Kneeling, l-r] Werner T. Angress, John G. McCall
[Sitting, l-r] Clifford J. Campbell, Joel R. Lander, Richard E. Stedman, Howard A. Greenawalt
All except Vaughn survived the jump.

Jody Lander recalled that "Angress and another man were interpreters attached to us for the Normandy and Holland jumps ...  One of them [possibly Angress] was captured on the Normandy jump. We got him back when Cherbourg was liberated."
(photos courtesy of Zig Boroughs, The Devils Tale, Pg 293.  Note that some spelling errors have been corrected)

The chalk number for Stedman's stick is unknown but Chalk 16 led by Rex Combs is documented and is the basis for knowing that the jump that day was codenamed Operation Luftwaffe


"Rolling Bundles Before The Tragedy Jump"
was written on this photo of riggers at work. 
[Source unknown]

Saddling Up
Worster Morgan and Jody Landers strap on chutes for the jump in Reims, France
 
(courtesy Ellen Peters)

Tragedy during practice jump over France
Plane out of control, plows through jumpers already in the air.

(photo by Emmitt Shirley, Parachute Maintenance Command)

Parachutes stream from the wings as plane crashes, killing many
 Six men of the 508th and the plane's crew of four were among the dead. The 508th casualties were: Pvt Nick C. Emanuel; Pfc Bernard Levin; Pfc Luther M. Tillery; Pfc Charles Under Baggage, Jr.; Pfc Alfred J.  Vaughn; and Pfc George W.  Wall


Smoke Billows
from the mangled wreckage.  A field ambulance is already on the scene

Tail Section
remains in one piece

Side View
shows the parachute snagged on the vertical stabilizer

Marlene Dietrich
although actually a practice jump, Dietrich, was told that it was a parade jump held in her honor. She fell for this little white lie and after witnessing the crash became hysterical and remained severely distressed.
Source: Nordyke, P., “Put Us Down In Hell: The Combat History of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment in World War II” 2012, pp. 483 – 485

(courtesy Capt. Rex Combs collection unless otherwise cited)

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