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THE CO-PILOT (page 4)

The next 56 miles from Flatbush, the Marine Lighthouse on the Isle of Portland, would take the Co-pilot to two ships in the Channel marked with a green signal light. Somewhere in this area, Capt. Clyde "Pappy" Taylor was now on board a ship with crew and members of the Path-finder troops that had departed North Witham with eight other aircraft. Pappy was bumped by one of the other Pathfinders and required to ditch.-- the only 62nd crew that did not complete their mission. Made sense to Pappy that if you had to put it in the water, land close to a ship. They never even got their feet wet. Fortunately, there were three planes assigned to each DZ by the First Pathfinder Group to arrive 30 minutes ahead of the main body.

Col. Stiles made the 90 degree left turn at Hoboken and the Co-pilot watched the amber recognition lights being turned off, as they started the run to the IP. Just off the right wing the Co-pilot could see the channel islands of Guernsey and Jersey in the bright moonlight.

A little over two hours in to the mission, a minimum of conversation had been exchanged between members of the crew. Navigator, Lt. Victor Palumbo had been keeping his log on time and distance and was now standing between the pilots. His first combat flight, Vic had questions as he looked at the closest of the channel islands. "Why don't they shoot?" The Co-pilot had no answer but was content with the fact that they were out of range of the fiftys and perhaps too low for the heavy anti-aircraft. The cloud bank at the IP that would scatter later formations drew the well disciplined crews of the 62nd and other squadrons of the 314th together as they closed formation, the better to see the nine little blue formation lights. Grimes stayed close to Major Tappan as they descended and found clear visibility and moments later, the moonlight. Vic Palumbo's question was answered as the Co-pilot watched and became absorbed with how slow the tracers rose from the ground and then suddenly went by quickly and out of sight. The view from the right seat is the best in the house - you can see it all, as Major Tappan would approach a line of fire and quickly rise over the tracers. When Tap went up, Grimes would go under. So far, so good, but the real problem is the five rounds in between each little red ball and those red balls are close together. Five hundred feet is not a good altitude when you are dodging hostile ground fire. Troop Carrier Command always said that in the General Orders on awards of air medals - "hostile fire". They also used the terms, unarmed, unarmored, unescorted. the Co-pilot had time to think about a lot of things during the 20 mile run from the IP to the DZ.

The 508th had been standing and ready since the IP; they were more than willing to get out of that airplane and on the ground where they could shoot back. The Co-pilot was relieved to see the lighted "T" on the ground and the formation was slowing to a hundred and five. One problem - several guns are holding their fire steady over the DZ and waiting for us to fly through. The Co-pilot had his hand on the switch for the green light while watching the troops leave the first nine aircraft. If that "T" is in the right place, the troopers will be on target. The Co-pilot looked at his watch - 2:08, flipped the green light and counted the troops as he felt each step out the door. When number nine went out the door the pararack loads were released.

Only seconds had elapsed when he realized that all the troops were out of the first nine planes except for Charlie Cartwright, who was leading the right element. Charlie's wing men went for the deck and he made a right turn and had his navigation lights on. The Co-pilot was still counting the last of the paratroops and watching Charlie make a one-eighty and the tracers were following him and not firing on the rest of the formation. Charlie flew out of sight and Grimes hit the throttles and headed for the deck. All the eight planes remaining in front were out of sight as Grimes leveled off and they could see the flooded areas and just beyond, the beach and the water.
 

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