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Alexander (2) Alexander (3) Alexander (4) Alexander (5) Alexander (6) Alexander (7)

THIRTY FOUR DAYS IN NORMANDY IN 1944
By Colonel Mark J. Alexander

    For several years Iíve been promising my son, Mark, Jr., that I would write of my experiences in the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. At that time I was Executive Officer of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division. After fighting in the invasions of Sicily and Italy, we had been training in Ireland and England for about six months in preparation for the invasion of Europe. Only a few of us knew that our next objective was Normandy, France.

    We displaced from our training areas in England to the airfields on June 3 with intent to jump into Normandy on the morning of June 5. However, stormy weather over the English Channel caused Eisenhower to delay one day, and the invasion was made June 6, 1944. My Regiment, the 505th, jumped at 1:30 to 2:30 AM on the morning of June 6, preceded by our pathfinders with a lead of 45 minutes.

    After we displaced to the airfields, I am proud that General Matthew B. Ridgeway, the Division Commander, came to me and said that he had decided to jump into Normandy with my Regiment rather than go by ship and boat, and would I pick a plane and jumpmaster whereby he had the best chance of landing in the chosen landing area. I picked an experienced jumpmaster, Lieutenant Dean Garber of Headquarters Company, and a plane on the right side of the flight formation where the jumpmaster could best see the beckoning lights of the pathfinders. The General sat in with Headquarters Company for loading and jump instructions on the 4th of June.

    This, I believe was to be the General's fifth jump. The General jumped with Headquarters Company as planned landing within 100 yards of proposed drop area where his field command post was planned, and was soon joined by elements of his Division staff.

    After a delay of 24 hours, General Eisenhower finally gave the order to launch the invasion on the morning of June 6. We had been nervously standing by at the airfields for some 36 hours and the men were ready to go. Training and timing of an invasion by 150,000 men and support units was a tremendous undertaking. In addition to combat and service troops, thousands of ships and 821 C47 airborne troop transports were involved. This included 20 pathfinder ships and three hours later, 103 airplanes, each towing a WACO glider carrying glider troopers, jeeps, antitank guns, and supplies.

    Finally, on June 5th, we received the anxiously awaited orders to "GO" on the morning of June 6, 1944. Takeoff and assembly of aircraft from several airfields, and circling to get into formation takes a great deal of time. We were circling in the air a half hour before heading for Normandy in a flight of V's. In my ship with me as jumpmaster were 18 men from our Regimental Headquarters S2, Captain Patrick Gibbons, my orderly, Chick Eitelman, and others. The other half of the Regimental staff were in another plane with the Regimental Commander, Colonel Ekman, and our regimental S3, Major John Norton.

    After assembly in formation we headed for Normandy. There was a quarter moon and an occasional cloud. Standing in the open door of the C47, I could see thousands of ships below. We headed southwest to pass northeast of the islands of Guernsey and Jersey, turning back to the southeast to cross the Normandy coast between the French towns of Bricquebec and Saint Sauveur le Vicomte to jump in the area immediately southwest of Sainte Mere Eglise. We were subject to heavy antiaircraft fire as we came into the vicinity of the two islands and intensive fire as we crossed the coast into Normandy. Intermittent clouds covered the 1200-foot approach elevation at which we were flying. We were to fly lower to an elevation of 800 feet for the jump. Flying in the intermittent clouds caused the formation to begin to disperse--some higher--some lower.

    In my plane we were in the clouds for almost all of the flight across Normandy. The red warning light came on and I waited for the green jump light as we flew through the clouds. I was afraid to jump without the green light for fear the other aircraft might be flying right behind us and at a lower elevation. I was about to jump without the green light because I knew we had passed over the intended drop area. We were still flying in the clouds and rapidly approaching the north coast of Normandy when the green light finally came on. I led the jump into the clouds at an estimated elevation of 800 feet as we landed very quickly.

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