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A TROOPER'S REPORT ON NORMANDY
A TROOPER'S REPORT ON NORMANDY
By John D. Kersh, 508th PIR, Service Company Rigger

(Editor's note: The following report was written initially in response to a request for information by a grandson of Larry Snovak. Larry Snovak was KIA in Normandy during that campaign and his grandson was anxious to get some information relative to circumstances surrounding that combat jump. John Kersh was in the same C-47 with trooper Snovak and jumped with him that night. His report covers events of that jump and of the days that followed.)

The first time I remember Larry Snovak was in Camp Mackall when we played on the rigger football team. I remember he was always an excellent and hard worker. I knew he was married and had lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
When we were on the English airfield at about 9:00 P.M. on June 5, 1944, waiting for our mission to begin, he told me he had been hoping for a letter from his wife as she was expecting to have their baby any day. I found a jeep with a driver in it and got him to take me to the mail room to see if there was any mail. It so happened that there was. Larry opened his letter and let out a yell, "By Golly, it's a boy, and he's going to grow up and play football for the Pittsburgh Steelers"! He was very happy!

We were the last plane in the formation that took off from Cottesmore airdrome (I think that was field; but I can't be sure). It was then about 11:00 P.M. We circled around for what seemed like over an hour. Then we flew out over the Channel and soon ran into fog. The planes all scattered. We flew on and soon were over land and started catching some pretty heavy ground fire - machine guns and 20 mm stuff. We were all hooked up and standing ready. Sgt. Keating was our jumpmaster. The red light was on at first - then the lights went out. We turned left and flew back over the water. The crew chief came back and told us that the lights had been shot out and that they would have to ring a buzzer when we should jump. We then circled back over land to complete this jump.

This put us 6 or 7 miles north of where we should have been. We dropped on a Division Headquarters. I remember that everywhere I went, all I heard was Germans. There was lot of machine gun fire. I had a carbine, a 45 pistol, and 6 grenades. Before long, I had used up all of the grenades. By then, it was nearing daybreak so I crawled up in some thick hedge rows and was going to hide out if I could during the day. At about 10:00 o'clock I saw 2 German patrols coming toward me - one on each side of the hedge row. When they got close to me, I stepped out and surrendered. They took me to their Headquarters. About an hour later a truck came by and Marcel Bollag and I were put in and taken to a temporary prison camp. In the truck were Larry Snovak, Jimmy Hall, and Howard Ranabauer. All three of these had been seriously wounded and were in a state of shock from loss of blood, probably. The Germans dropped us off at the prison camp and I suppose they took the other three to a hospital.
We spent June 6 night in the prison camp. This camp was surrounded by barbed wire and German guards with machine guns. The next day we were marched to the edge of Cherbourg and put in a prison camp with barracks. We stayed there until the morning of June 10th. Then they marched about 100 that were in the camp out heading south before the peninsula was cut off. The only 2 paratroopers there that I know of were Sgt. Marcel Bollag and myself. It was his first jump. He was attached to Intelligence as he spoke German, French, Italian, and Spanish. He was raised in Switzerland and came to the U.S.A. in 1932.

After walking all day and late into the evening, we came to a railroad with an engine and several box cars. There were already some American troops under guard there. They loaded them on the train and marched the rest of us on until dark - then put us in a large barn. On June 11 we started out marching again. The sun was almost down when a P-47 flew over us from behind and banked around and turned toward us. I could see the smoke shooting from the front of his wings so I jumped in a ditch beside the road. We were strafed and he turned and started back. There was a ditch that ran cross-ways to the road so I got in there. There were also a lot of trees along the road. The P-47 pilot made several more passes until his ammo had run out and he left. All the German guards had been riding bicycles and all but 3 had been killed. I don't know how many Americans were killed; but the road was covered with dead and badly wounded.

We were close to a small town. A priest and some of the other people came out and helped as much as they could.

The next day, June 12, the guards told us we would stay there until night and then march on as there would be no more day-time marching. Late that afternoon, Marcel came up to me and said if we could get away, there was a Frenchman who had said he would hide us out. I told Marcel to ask the guard if we could go into the field right across the road - it was a potato field - to see if we could dig up some potatoes to eat. It was no problem (as they were not guarding us very close) to get into the woods. We went about 2 miles into the woods, spent the night there, and came back the next morning after the rest of the guards and troops had left. The Frenchman brought us a loaf of bread and some kind of stew. That was the first thing we had eaten in several days. I think that was one meal I will remember the rest of my life!

I don't know the name of the Frenchman, I have talked with Marcel in the last 2 or 3 years and he [nothing] remembers of him. Marcel went back there in 1994 to the 50th Anniversary of D-Day and visited with the ones that were still living. Some had passed away; but their children said their parents talked about the 2 American Paratroopers they had hid out.
Back in 1944, we stayed in that village about a week. They got us French clothes and took our pictures and had fake I.D. cards made for us. I was listed as deaf and dumb on my card!
Our friends next moved us out to a farmer's house. We stayed there about a week and the Germans set up an A. A, Battery within 200 yards of the house. One day we were eating in the kitchen when 4 German soldiers came in and sat down at the table. One of the German soldiers had told Marcel that his hands did not look like a farmer's hands. Marcel told them he was from Cherbourg and worked in a bank. He bummed some cigarettes from them, I was relieved when they left. Our friends moved us out the next day as they thought it was a good idea. The next place we stayed was close to Lessey (sp?) and stayed there 4 days. We then moved into the town to an apartment with a French lady and her two daughters. One of them was named Simone and I don't remember the other's name. She also had a son about 13 years of age. The father owned a manufacturing plant close to Paris. The Germans had taken it over and forced him to stay there and run it. The family we were with were very nice people. When Marcel went back to France for the 50th anniversary of D-Day he went to see them. He brought back photos and a letter to me from Simone.

On July 17th it was decided by the French people that they would try to get us back through the American lines. We went up the coast and stayed in a little farm house one night and day. On July 17th at about midnight we went to the coast and waded in the ocean. The moon was dark; but there was a French Marine who had served in WWI who led us until we were behind the American lines. You could tell by the artillery fire where we were. We went ashore and waited until daylight and then started walking toward La Haye Du Puits. On the way, we met an American with a jeep and I flagged him down and told him who we were. He took us to his Company Headquarters. His Captain called somebody and they took us into town to the Headquarters there. Two reporters took pictures of us. Then we were taken to a replacement depot and given American uniforms in place of the French civilian clothes we had been wearing for about 6 weeks.

That night we were picked up by the driver of a full Colonel who was in charge of Intelligence. He questioned us - mostly he questioned Marcel because he knew the names of all the different towns, outfits, etc. we had seen while we were behind the lines. The Colonel was from Birmingham, Alabama. He told us he could help us in any way we wanted and just to let him know how. That was July 18th. We stayed in that camp until Friday morning. On Wednesday and Thursday I had noticed a C-47 had landed about noon each day and left going back in the direction of England. We walked up to the landing field and found the control room. I asked the Sgt. who appeared to be in charge if the plane was going to England, I told him who we were and asked him if we could ride the plane back to England. He said we could only if we had written orders. I asked if we could get verbal orders from the Colonel in Intelligence. He said we could. I told him to call the Colonel and tell him that Sgt. Kersh would like to speak to him. He did and I heard him say, "Yes, sir!" and handed me the phone. I explained to the Colonel that if he would give the Sgt. verbal orders, we could get on the plane back to England. He said "I'll do even better than that. I will see to it that you get on that plane and when you land, I will have Major (somebody) - the pilot - fly you back to the Cottesmore field!" And that's how we got back - July 22, 1944 - to our base camp somewhere near Oakham.

When I walked into our barracks and back to my room, Sgt. Morowski was about ready to send my personal effects back to my parents in Alabama! I stayed with the outfit - the Parachute Maintenance Section - until we went to Reims (Sissone) in France. From there we moved to occupation duty in Frankfurt, Germany,
In July 1945, Eisenhower put out the order that all former P.O.W.'s would be sent back to the States. I left about the last of August and got back home September 15. I was given a 60 day furlough and then was discharged from the army.
 

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