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FIRST TO SEE UTAH BEACH ON D-DAY

NORMANDY

The 4th Division was not the first to see Utah Beach on D-Day; I was!

As a paratrooper platoon leader in the 82nd Airborne Division, I passed over Utah Beach, 300 feet up, hours before the landings. I was traveling in the wrong direction at the time - a mistake that began three hours earlier on an airfield near Nottingham, England.

Shortly after loading my platoon and the equipment bundles, the Air Corps announced that the port engine on my C-47 would not start. Dragging the 350 pound bundles between triplets of airplanes roaring by at sixty second intervals made switching a desperate and time-consuming struggle. As we rolled down the runway, I realized my platoon was all alone.

Airborne at last, the three overloaded aircraft found the signal submarine south of Portsmouth and turned east towards Normandy's western shore.

Standing in the door, I watched as Guernsey Island slipped under the wing, beautiful in the moonlight. At landfall the planes dropped to 600 feet and anti-aircraft fire rattled by as I desperately searched for landmarks.

At last, far to the north I saw the twin ribbons of the Merderet and Douve rivers that marked the drop-zone. According to plan, we were to come in from behind and drop on the critical bridge crossings leading to the beaches.

“Turn left and drop us somewhere!!” I screamed into the intercom as we flew over the soft white beach of the peninsula's eastern shore. We were heading straight for the invasion fleet.

Dropping as he turned left, the pilot brought the flight back over the center of Utah Beach!

Within moments my plane was ripped by a burst of fire and I was jolted backwards as a tracer slammed into my chin. The plane lurched crazily as the green light flicked on.

"Let's go!” I yelled and jerked myself through the door. My chute opened instantly, I oscillated once, and crashed into the ground with such force I couldn't move. Although in shock, I noted that it was perfectly quiet. Mentally I cursed my parents, my country, wife, President Roosevelt, thinking, how could THEY do this to me? -to anyone!

As logic and training took control, I looked around and froze in fear! Yards away was a bunker with a machine gun pointed straight at me!

Logic again told me that, since I was still alive, the bunker was empty, and as a spasm of urine erupted from my body, I rolled to my feet and slashed at my harness.

Unencumbered, the blood on my chin already beginning to congeal and under control at last, I started my search for equipment and comrades.

It was 1:25 a.m. - for me, D-Day had just begun.

-30-

By: Neal W. Beaver Box 207 Grand Marais, MI 49839

Copy of an article written for Parade Magazine by Neal Beaver, for the 40th Anniversary of D-Day
David Lawrence, Jr., Executive Director April 17, 1984Detroit Free Press Detroit, MI 48231
 

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