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DROPPING INTO CHEF DU PONT

NARRATIVE WRITTEN BY ROBERT C.  MOSS (perhaps in the 1970s)

The 508th Prcht.  Inf.  left USA sometime after Christmas.  We landed at Belfast and made camp somewhere between Coleraine and Port Stuart In Northern Ireland where it rains every day excepting Sundays.  After a month or so we crossed to England and settled at Nottingham, one great place.  This was early February, 1944.  Weather had improved.

We made training jumps always at night and on one of those I went through a thatched roof of a farmhouse and wound up swinging in a farmers bedroom.  He and wife were in the sack.

In April or May, in addition to my duties as platoon leader, I was named liaison officer to the Air Force.  This meant I would handle the detail for jumps to be made by the Third Battalion.

Toward the end of May, the Bn. CO. told me to go to certain airfield (I forget which) and set up a drop.  No date was given.  Then before I left, the Bn. CO. said, after swearing me to secrecy, “This is the big one.  We are going.” [Ed.  Note: The field for the 1st and 3rd Battalions was Folkingham.]

I remember It was Whitsundide or WhitSunday that the regiment took off from Nottingham in the double-decker British busses and went to the field and bunked In a hangar that I had arranged for us.  It was enclosed with barbed wire.  Only special people go in or out.  I could go out but had nowhere to go.

We were set to go on June 4th but the weather messed that up.  Some rain, heavy gusts but nothing like the coastal regions.

June 5.  1944 dawned bright and clear.  Late in the afternoon we began loading our equipment on the planes (The 1st & 3d Bns were at this field). The British had double daylight time and in that northern region It did not get absolutely dark until about midnight so it was light when we finally took off.  I have forgotten the time.

We flew south and west out over the ocean.  It was dark and the formations had tiny blue lights around the wing edges and down the fuselages, arranged so to be seen only by the other air craft.  We homed on a sub somewhere, turned south for a spell then east and hit the west coast of Normandy on an azimuth of 113 degrees.

We supposedly had a few minutes to go to drop zone and the red ready light went on.  All men stood up, hooked up and moved in position to jump.  Flak, at night is magnified similar to flying over the fair grounds into the fireworks.  The plane began jumping from the concussions but I don't think we took and [sic] hits.

We flew and flew and flew - and flew.  We knew something watt wrong.  I could no longer see the formation light of other planes.  The guys were getting edgy and that line was surging and pushing.  And there was some profanity, I believe.

Then the crew chief came up to me and said: '' Lieutenant, we can't find the drop zone.  We are lost.  Do you want to go back to England'? Gawd amlghty! Go back to England? Those guys would have thrown me out and jumped anyway or killed me when we got back to England, I said, "Are we over France?”  He said, "Yes."  I said,”Give us the green light.  We're going."

I had a large, sharp, GI Knife In a boot holster with a lanyard to my belt, a carbine (30 cal) and a .45 pistol which was cocked and ready in a shoulder holster.  Thus I departed the good old C-47.  I knew there was something bad on the ground but it didn't worry me particularly.  I was happy to get out of that plane.  This feeling is shared by all troopers.

My chute opened as usual.  I checked the swing somewhat.  A strong breeze was blowing and I knew I was moving fairly fast in some direction.  I was not going straight down.  What looked [like a] large pasture below me was really a flooded section of the Merderet River.  I removed my reserve chute and dropped it to have no interference when removing the back pack on the ground.  I knew we had jumped about 700 to 800 feet which is not bad.  Then I realized I was moving backwards.  I could have turned my body to come in forward but said to hell with it, I'll go in as the Good Lord permits.

The “pasture” was gone now and I could see houses below.  I realized I was coming in fast, mostly horizontal.  More so than vertical.  Then WHAMMMM.

I had trained for this with that thatched roof.  I was swinging in the corner of a room.  Bang - right wall, bang - left wall.  Then I knew - nobody told me - I had come through the roof of a stone barn.  I saw the joists, about two feet apart and up to a peak like any house roof.

Reconnaissance - that is a military positive and it comes up front - reconnoiter - patrol - and that’s what I did.  There were 17 or 18 men on my plane and we would have come down in a generally straight line.  I did not know about the river then.  I was in the village of Chef du Pont but did not know where I was.

I spent about one hour going from end to end of that place which was spread out with several fields an [sic] many open places along a main drag.  No lights, no sign of habitation.  The natives were lying low.  I found none of my boys.  How much time went by I can't recall and I was ready to leave the village and make toward some firing that had started up.  I don’t know just how far away.  I could tell from the sound that our rifles were firing.

Actually, I was heading toward the river, sneaking from place to place, taking cover behind fences, posts, bushes - just like a good soldier doing it by the book.  That was the easy part.  I was back at the orchard and I heard someone moving.  The weeds were about knee high.  A normal pace through could make noise and I was tuned for a pin drop.

I went down in a prone position, brought my carbine up on this figure I could make out as he came toward me and - why I didn't take that perfect shot, only God knows.  Something held my finger and I snapped “Halt!“  Right, back came the words "Lt.  Moss.”  I said, "Dammit, Svenson, what the hell are you doing walking though here like that? That's the way to get killed.” The training officer, still training my men.  [Ed.  Note: Svenson” would have been Pfc Theodore Q.  Svenson]

Now we were two, reinforced and ready.  We moved toward the river and the bridge.  The bridge told me a lot.  It had to be held.  Our job was to seal off the beaches.  We start here.

Our armament consisted of one M-1 rifle, one carbine, two hand grenades apiece, ammunition aplenty, sulphur powder and a bandage apiece and - and - and - each of us had a five-pound land mine in our musette bag hanging over our bellies.  We could stop any tank that tried to cross.

Svenson and I found a spot at riverside just to the flank of the bridge.  It was hidden by trees but we could see out when light came.  Best of all, it muffled the sound of fire and better yet, it hid the flash and smoke.  We settled in to hold that unnamed bridge.

Not quite daylight and Svenson was eying the river and I was a few yards back watching our rear when I saw [name obscured].  He was standing, about fifty feet away, looking right past us.  I saw him first.  Now we were three and most confident.  That was because we didn't understand the real situation at all.

At just about daylight, I caught a motion behind us and challenged this Frenchman.  I could see him trying to come around a chicken house.  For the first time I could see we were behind a house with a back yard stretching to the river.  I showed him the American Flag on my shoulder and he seemed pleased.  He spoke to me in French - I spoke to him in English.  We understood nothing and he signaled and disappeared then returned with a bottle of something that was “Ceeeda”, the great Norman cider we learned to love.  Plus a boiled egg for each of us.

--- Unfortunately, the story ends here as the Moss family tells us that remainder has been lost ---
 

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