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Up R. H. Thomas (2) R. H. Thomas (3) R. H. Thomas (4) R. H. Thomas (5)

6 JUNE 1944
RALPH H. THOMAS  4-17-2002  (1 of 5)

 Jumping into Normandy, behind the beachhead, pre-dawn, on 6 June 1944, was the greatest event of my life at that date. Only my marriage, having children and grandchildren are more important. The events that followed the jump are different; however, the D-day jump left its mark on me forever. That battle experience, and the events that followed, molded me into what I am today. My pride in being an American, though strong in my early youth, grew beyond bounds from that experience.

The preparation for the jump took twenty months of training that made men of all of us involved in the creation, from scratch, of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Being an original member of the regiment and seeing it grow from untrained recruits into an outstanding fighting unit was worth all the effort and suffering it called for.

In the training to become a soldier and a jumper we learned the purpose of saluting our officers and the flag, and to obey their commands. It was there too we learned to love the men we served with and to honor those who were left behind in death.

As time went on I learned that all soldiers are first human beings and then soldiers. You saw the same qualities you admired in your own comrades in some of the other troops you fought with and against. In most of the individuals I worked with or against, be he friend or foe, I found them good men and wondered why we had to fight and die. It was only in the SS and Gestapo that I found hate and a lack of gallantry. They were "down right mean" and seemed to enjoy being cruel.

 Yet, to this day, I believe in soldiering and am proud to have been a soldier for my country. I recommend that all young men and women serve in the armed services and in doing so become a better person. It will not put anything in you but it will bring out the very best in you and help you discover the values you will live with the rest of your life.

A few days before D-Day our regiment moved to an airfield near Nottingham, England and went into quarantine until the order came for us to take off for the battle in Normandy. During those few days we lived in the hangars or outside on the ground. Either way it would be uncomfortable to a civilian, but we loved it.

In the hours prior to enplaning each man had time to review his own thoughts and make peace with himself and his God. For me I had no doubt that I would live through the combat and return to England when the battle was over.

 Yes, I saw some men suffer and struggle with their doubts and grow pensive. It was if they knew they would die before the night was over. Yet, to my knowledge I never saw a man that was not ready to go. Some 30,000 paratroopers in three divisions, two American and one British...went to war.

In England the summer days are long, it is light until almost midnight, so by the time we boarded our planes with all our gear it was twilight as we took off for Normandy. We flew down the Cornwall coast and out over the Atlantic Ocean. I sat by the door looking out at the planes off our left wing and down at the ocean below.
My mind was filled with the wonder of it all, the ocean; all the airplanes, and the total number of men in both the 82nd and 101st divisions along with the British Paratroop Division who were on their way to war. The moon was bright and sparkled on the ocean surface. The beauty of the night enthralled me.

Our flight was routed over Lands End, England out into the Atlantic Ocean to a point where an American submarine was waiting on the surface. A light shone from the top of the sub's mast, which could be seen only from an airplane above the sub.

The lead plane turned to the left, east, when it reached the light on the sub and all the other planes turned as if they were one and flew between the islands of Guernsey and Jersey. The flight was calculated to fly between the flak from both islands so that not a plane was lost to the German fire. The tracers climbed up slowly into the sky from the flak and machine gun fire in deadly orange and yellow lights. From my seat at the door of the C-47 it was a beautiful sight to see and I enjoyed it very much. Just before reaching the French coast our planes rose from the deck of the ocean to a height that carried us up and over the high cliffs of the west coast of Normandy. The planes, all in tight formation, moved toward our drop zones. To this point all went well.

But when the planes rose above the cliffs and flew into Normandy they ran into low scattered cloud cover, at places heavy, and heavy German flak. The Germans were welcoming us to Normandy. Most of the pilots of our troop transports, not having been in combat before, broke formation and took erratic evasive action. The planes lost formation and bounced around in the flak filled sky. Some of the planes were hit and exploded in the air while others burst into flames and crashed into the ground.
A few collided with other C-47's in mid air and burst into flames and fell to the ground like dying birds. Most of the planes flew on and dropped their load of paratroopers "some where" in Normandy while a few pilots placed their jumpers right on target. The British paratroopers did not have this trouble as they flew in a more direct flight from England to their drop zones.

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