Seeing the great Normandy battle area in person, where we made
history over 50 years ago, is something difficult to describe in
words. I'm sure the native French peasants who survived the invasion
could enlighten you as to the horrible death and devastation they
witnessed during this great battle. If you spoke with them, they
could explain better than one could read in a book.
The small town of Saint-Mere-Eglise, believe it or not,
was the first town liberated in the invasion. The town was overrun
with hundreds of Germans, and the sad part was that some of my F
Company buddies landed on the town, were captured before they got
out of their parachute harnesses, and were then executed in the town
Mr. John Steele, upon his descent, was shot in the
foot, and then landed on the church roof in which the steeple
snagged his parachute, causing him to be helplessly suspended. The
blood flowed out of his foot and down the church wall, convincing
the Germans that he was dead, so they didn't shoot at him. In spite
of the discomfort, John remained motionless in an effort to "play
dead," because of what he saw going on below.
John became very well known for this event. Several
years ago, I traveled to Indianapolis to see John, drink free beer
with him, reminisce, and to remember the good times, but not the
bad. Unfortunately John had just been diagnosed with cancer, and
died about a year later, and we lost a great historian of the 508th
Parachute Infantry Regiment.
Another paratrooper, Mr. Pat Bogie, from Wisconsin, used to come and
visit with me. Pat landed just behind the Saint-Mere-Eglise church
crashing through a hen house roof. He said that the chickens made so
much noise that he quickly got out of the hen house and escaped
between the houses and the various buildings, eventually finding
Soon after daylight, a horrible attack was made by F,
H, and part of E company. Although outnumbered 15-20 to 1, the
Germans were defeated at Saint-Mere-Eglise.
My experience began by being transported by a C-47
"Gooney Bird" which entered French airspace from the west side,
going between the Jersey and Guernsey Islands. Our destination was
to be the outskirts of Picauville, a small village containing a
German anti-aircraft installment that I was commanded to take, by
setting up a machine gun on the second story of a house.
Unfortunately the C-47 took a hit, caught on fire, and was actually
falling backwards when I bailed out. Everyone was yelling trying to
get out; 1 don't think the crew did.
The many C-47's transporting paratroopers and supplies
to be dropped by chute had to travel without lights or radio
contact, and this caused them to be spread out and quite mixed up.
The paratroopers landed in quite a conglomeration, and for the most
part the groups were small, around 30 people for the most part, and
were from many different outfits.
I landed in an apple orchard, and I helped one of our
young fellows to get out of his harness, which was stuck in an apple
tree, he was eventually killed.
We set out for Baupte which was just north of us to
cross the Douve River. We did this in wooden boats under the German
watch. Eventually they noticed and began shooting at us. Before
departing for Beauzeville La BastiJle, about two German tanks were
destroyed with Gammon grenades by several brave fellas in the group.
The battle in Beauzeville La Bastille was fierce. It
was simply a vicious battle. Eventually I was recruited by an
officer, who chose me and several others by saying "you, you, you,
and you" to go to La Haye Du Puits for the taking of Hill 95 and
Hill 131, which we did.
There were 200-300 Germans there against our opposing
60 fellows or so, but the shooting was good. It was a bit like
prairie dog hunting, as I recall, and we profited from that, but
they got about 1/2 of us. The injured guys were put in a barn owned
by Mr Phillipe Vasselin, and he helped care for them as well.
Finally, after starting the battle for Hill 95 at dawn, we had taken
it by 9 a.m. We were then ordered to attack the next objective, Hill
131, but much to my objection. The men were tired and weary, and
needed rest. But the Lieutenant made the order.