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MEN AT WAR: "CHOW CALL"
Incident Report from CARL H PORTER, Service Company Parachute Riggers. Incident occurred during and immediately following the NORMANDY DROP, June 6, 1944.

Two commands I remember from our pre D-Day briefing were: "Take no prisoners until we hook up with our land forces'" and "You are not to load your weapon until you are on the ground".

Fortunately I was not tested on the first and, even more fortunately, I believe the second saved my life.

The drop was low and fast and I was more concerned with the tracers piercing the 'chute above my head than I was in checking oscillation and where the 'chute and I were headed. Crashing through the branches of a large hedgerow tree and winding up dangling among the lower branches reminded me that it's always a good idea to check your landing position!

By the time I had extricated myself from harness and branches three German soldiers (who had probably been responsible for the tracers thru my canopy) materialized. I made a partial turn toward their shadowy figures and, as realization that I held an unloaded rifle electrified my brain; I dropped the M-l as if it were a white hot poker and responded to a harsh "Handa Hoche".

One of the Germans motioned me into the clearing that was encircled by hedgerows and as the moon brightened their figures I saw that one held a rifle and the other two machine pistols. It's a pretty sure bet that if my rifle had been loaded and put to use I wouldn't be here to write this P.S. today.

The two with machine pistols took positions a few yards apart while the rifleman put his weapon down a safe distance away and proceeded to disarm me of my grenades, trench knife, bandoliers (which I had strapped around my thighs above my bulging patch pockets for better balance), a picture of my girl friend, Marly, from my breast pocket, and literally everything else that would come off, including my musette bag, my watch and - oh yes - the pocket knife that was carefully concealed in the "secret" pocket near the collar of my jump jacket.

Apprehensively I followed the command to "Mach" (March!) across the field. I admit to a somewhat theatrical conscious thought that, if they were going to shoot me, I would die like a man so I squared my shoulders and marched, wondering as I did so if I would hear the sound of the shots that killed me. Crazy thing to think about at a time like that but the mind has to do SOMETHING all the time.

Through the field, across the road, and into what this mid-western boy would call a barnyard, I walked ahead of my captors. There I was deposited with what I took to be a dozen or so American paratroopers and/or glidermen who had preceded me in becoming prisoners of war. They took one boot from each of us so we couldn't run off and left us with two guards for the rest of the night.

In the early morning we were marched, with fingers laced and hands locked behind our heads, a mile or two down a dusty road to a formidable headquarters area. You have seen many men marched that way in the movies, but let me tell you, marching for a long distance in that posture becomes excruciating. Even so, not one American allowed his discomfort to show and we made the distance in orderly marching style. Even as prisoners we were of a single mind to give the best account of ourselves that circumstances allowed.

Our new home was within a stonewalled courtyard and we were imprisoned in a room about twenty by twenty-five feet. The stone walls were perhaps two to two and one-half feet thick, with two small windows about head high from the floor. I believe we numbered 17, thirteen of whom were paratroopers and four were glidermen.

As the Fourth Division worked its way inland from the beaches (did they land on Omaha? No, Utah) they encountered enemy opposition in this area which eventually boiled down to the old estate which had been turned into a German headquarters and in which we were held prisoners.

In the June 26, 1944, Time magazine the article you will see [below]  appeared:

TIME, JUNE 26, 1944
MEN AT WAR
Chow Call
   Penned in a Normandy farmhouse, 13 paratroopers of the crack 82nd Division,, heard the rising crash of American rifle and mortar fire outside. Downstairs their German captors fought savagely in defense of the house: the American prisoners heard the German commander tell his troops to fight to the last man.
   At last it got too rugged for the Germans. After an hour the prisoners heard frantic cries: "Nicht schiessen."  The German machine gunners outside at the gate kept on firing. So did the American attackers. But inside the house the German defenders surrendered to their own prisoners, sat down, sweating and white.
   How to tell the attackers that the fight was over? The paratroopers hung their own shirts from the windows for recognition signals. The firing only grew heavier. They yelled to cut it out, but their friends could not hear. Then a U.S. paratrooper found a bullet-pierced German bugle. He thrust it out the window. Above; the firing rang the shrill familiar, notes of "chow call".
   The American fire slackened, died.

Tech Sergeant Hank Shillinger and Corporals Bob Watt and Carl Porter were very instrumental in that "prison breakout". Here's what happened.

Rifle fire, mortar shrapnel and chips of stone had been ricocheting around our prison "cell" for longer than I care to remember. We had hugged the floor originally, and Bob had even tried to shield Hank at one point when a particularly hard volley peppered the room, but as time wore on and the firing remained high we relaxed a little in the sure knowledge (we thought) that the thick stone walls would provide adequate protection and that the material coming thru the small windows could hurt but probably would not kill.

At that point a wild-eyed German rifleman, with no rank insignia that I could see, rushed into the room and began threatening us with his bayoneted rifle. I don't remember if he picked me or me him, but I do recall vividly the look in his eyes and the hateful expression on his face as he jabbed the bayonet toward me and asked: "RUSSKIE?". "Nein, Nein!" I replied (probably with equal desperation).

"ENGLICH?" he then shouted. I responded again with, "Nein, Nein", and very slowly and carefully I turned my right shoulder toward him and pointed at the barely visible American flag (barely visible because our jump suits had been impregnated with some protective substance in event of mustard gas or similarly abrasive chemical). "American", I said.

His face broke into a wide grin as he exclaimed, "Americanish! Americanish!" He then leaned his rifle against the wall so he could embrace me and, as I looked over his shoulder while in that bear hug, I saw Hank Shillinger grab the rifle and, with Bob Watt on his heels, head out the door of our prison room into the general headquarters.

It took me a minute to get unhitched from the now super-friendly German so by the time I barged into the next room to help Hank, Bob, and some of the others, there were already about 12 fully uniformed and partially armed German soldiers trying to get rid of their weapons as they surrendered.

I chose a P-35 pistol and a BAR type automatic rifle from the stack of gunnery that was building in the middle of the floor and Hank, Bob and I (and to be fair there were probably others, though I can't honestly remember) headed into the room just off the courtyard. Germans were surrendering faster than we could take their weapons so we herded many into the inner rooms with "Potato Mashers" still sticking out of their belts.

It was then that we started trying to get the Fourth Division's attention to let them know we were in control. However, as the Time Magazine article pointed out, they weren't listening! It was at this point that one of the guys (a gliderman I think) saw the battle scarred bugle hanging on the wall and took it down to blow an American message to the infantrymen who were still pouring it on.

The way the sounds came out it's hard to say whether he was blowing Chow Call, Taps or Reville, but whatever it was the men of the Fourth Division heard it and the firing did indeed slacken and die. And what a glorious sound that LACK OF SOUND was, Ive probably never felt better in my entire life than I did as the pounding changed to a staccato... then to scattered rifle shots...then ceased altogether.

Several of us walked over to congratulate the guy who blew the bugle and to tell him we were surely thankful he knew how to blow one. He replied: "Hell, I never blew one of the damned things before in my life, BUT I HAD TO DO SOMETHING!"

Outside, after all the prisoners were corralled in the courtyard and Fourth Division manpower was organizing them for a march to the beach, a fellow in suntans walked over and identified himself as a reporter from Time Magazine. Hank Shillinger was obviously in charge at this point so the reporter asked him how many paratroopers there were. Hank answered "Thirteen" (the guy asked "how many paratroopers" not "how many American soldiers"). Then he asked: How many Germans did you guys take prisoner?" Hank shot him a quick look that said "Who had time to count you dumb bastard?", then his face broke into that cherubic grin of his and he said with quiet authority: "Two-hundred and ten".

From that point on we would recount with due seriousness how seventeen paratroopers (we elevated the glider guys to parachute jump status) turned the tables on Two-hundred and Ten Germans.

And one final note. A small mishap got me medivacted by air out of France and to a hospital in England where I shared a ward with probably 40 to 50 other guys. Rod McLennan was in the bed next to mine and we shared war stories as to how we arrived in Normandy and how we wound up in the hospital so he knew the above tale.

One day in early July he shouted, "Porter, here it is. Right here in Time Magazine!" It took me awhile to get out of him what "it" was, but to emphasize his point he read the article aloud. "That was us all right" I said. To which a voice across the aisle added: "You lucky son-of-a-bitch, my Colonel was fed up with blasting away at that stone fortress and had just told me to call the beach on the field phone and have the Navy lob some shells up there to blow that place off the face of the earth. I was just ringing up when we heard that damned bugle."

"And that, as Paul Harvey would say, Is the rest of the story".

Carl H Porter
Service Company, 508 Parachute Infantry Regiment
 

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