By Ellen Dockham
Clyde Smith knew what to do when the green light came on in the
plane over Normandy in the early hours of June 6,1944.
He would jump out behind the man in front of him, land, pull off
his parachute and assemble the regiment to cover a nearby bridge so
engineers could destroy it.
But that was in training, without flak zinging through the air and
bullets blasting through the bottom of the plane.
"The planes should have slowed up to about 100 miles an hour for a
jump, and I think they were going about 125," said Smith, who was a
scout for the 508 Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne
"Our plane was hit right before we jumped. Machine gun bullets came
up through the bottom, and when we stood up to jump, shrapnel went
up through right behind my platoon leader standing in the door. A
piece went through the wing too, and that's when we jumped."
Smith and his fellow paratroopers were forced to bail out of the
damaged plane in the wrong location, nowhere near the bridge and
ask you is it hard to shoot someone. But when you see the fellow
you're going to shoot, you're shooting the enemy.... It's easier for
you when you see one of your buddies get killed. It makes it easier
to shoot back.
and gave me a kidney punch with a rifle."
Smith was captured and loaded onto one of eight trucks filled with
prisoners of war. As the trucks moved out, six British and American
airplanes flew over and shot at them, not knowing allied prisoners
were aboard. About 40 prisoners were killed, he said.
In the next 10 months, during which time his wife presumed he was
dead, Smith was taken from town to town to dig ditches and lay water
lines. He rode a "hell train" so packed with prisoners that he
couldn't move at all, and he was never given breakfast. The
prisoners received only a bowl of soup at noon and a piece of bread
In April, Smith and some other prisoners were being taken to
Czechoslovakia when they overpowered the German guards and escaped.
They grubbed for potatoes to survive and eventually linked up with
an American convoy who helped them get to France. Smith finally got
home in July.
Fifty years later, Smith said despite his pain and suffering, he
doesn't regret the time he spent as a paratrooper.
"There was a lot of excitement. I wouldn't take nothing for being
there," he said.
together. Some troopers on other planes carryingthe division died
before they even had a chance to land.
In the next two days, Smith saw his squad sergeant, his fellow
platoon scout and another man killed right in front of him. Smith
was nicked in both legs by a grenade.
"There was a lot of confusion, but they (the German soldiers) were
confused as much as we were. Of course, they knew where they were
and we didn't," said Smith, who is now 72 and lives with his wife in
Taylors. "Because we were scattered a lot,
thought there was a whole lot more (of us)."
Smith said he was scared jumping 400 feet through all the machine
gun fire into a pasture, but being scared probably saved his life.
The fear heightened his senses, allowing him to see his first German
soldier before the man saw him.
Smith had just gotten out of his parachute and was crouched near a
hedgerow when he heard German voices. One of the German soldiers had
just spotted Smith's
parachute in the pasture, and Smith shot him
while his head was turned in that direction.
"I just shot him, and he sat down and fell back, and that was it.
Then I took off. I didn't have no choice. You can't hesitate. If you
hesitate, you're dead."
"People ask you is it hard to shoot someone. But when
you see the fellow you're going to shoot, you're shooting the
enemy," he said. "That man's got the uniform on. He's the enemy.
It's easier for you when you see one of your buddies
makes it easier to shoot back."
On June 8, Smith was scouting for his platoon when he saw some
German communication wires. He cut up the wires in small pieces and
had started running back to his platoon when German soldiers began
shooting at him.
"I was just lucky they didn't hit me. There happened
to be some high, tough grass in this pasture," he said. "I crawled
over to the other side trying to get out. When they quit firing, I
thought I was
about free, and somebody came up behind