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In Route To Normandy

For all I know, Howe Company of the 508th PIR, led by Lt. Victor Grabbe, was the only paratrooper unit in which the crossing of the English Channel was made in song, with the big jump into Normandy. But, let me recount this one to you.

All was calm in the obscure cabin of the C-47 that carried us over the English Channel, and, without the rumble of the engines, one could’ve heard a pin drop on the ground. The majority of us, like myself, were deep in thought about loved ones, and, without any doubt, our near, uncertain futures. We wondered how many of us would survive. At a particular moment Lt. Grabbe perceived this tension, and said quite loudly, “Hey guys, what you think about a song?” Someone suggested “Let Me Call Your Sweetheart,” followed by Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree Anyone Else But Me, “and then “Deep in the Heart of Texas.” These were well known songs. The following minutes were consecrated to singing some oldies.

It was super, and we were almost relaxed, when not far from us danger was approaching. I would say that for guys like Grabbe, it was like some white bread (easy at the start). In our situation, I doubt that any other leader of a stick would’ve thought of doing much else. But the red light soon illuminated the interior of the plane and we stood to our feet. Once the static line was hooked, we checked our harness. Then, the red light changed to green, while the first bursts of flak exploded around us. We jumped into the night.

The following is history, but, since I survived, I cannot remember the intelligence of our lieutenant, nor myself or anyone else that survived. Alas, Lt. Grabbe was seriously wounded some days later in June, and he died in England some time later. Neither my men of company H, nor its officers have ever forgotten him.

A Jump Into Shit.

I remember another small piece of history that happened to me in Normandy. It is funny, but, at the moment, it wasn’t, because I was under extreme pressure, and it was necessary to draw my gun and shoot at any cost. After having jumped, and upon approaching the ground, I turned to see all sides, and, because of the weight of the equipment, I hit the ground hard and rolled, my knees folded. There was a strong smell here. Amazingly I landed in a fresh pile of cow shit. I moved about in a lively manner, and laughed about this incident. It was necessary for me to assemble my Springfield before making it to the nearest hedgerow. It smelled horrid, and I knew it was me! Always this oder [sic] of fresh shit. And when one is covered with it, its worse. I believe that I should’ve killed that cow in the field. By good fortune, there were no Germans in that sector, and I was able to join some other paratroopers of which one among us, Howard Hughes, was a part of my stick. We turned ourselves around within the hedgerow, but still were able to find where I had landed.

At the beginning of daybreak, we had assembled a group of around 75 paratroopers that were to attack Chef-du-Pont. We then progressed in single-file to the main road of this village, by following the railroad tracks. Combat began. Of course we were more in number than the Germans, and those that were there fled across the bridge on the other side of the village. Near to this bridge, there was a house with a hand water pump with a washing basin. So, I pumped and pumped, splashing myself with many liters of water to wash myself of the s...of which I was covered. I partially succeeded and felt, just the same, a little better. To this day, I have never forgotten this cow, but the poor animal certainly must’ve become hamburger for some GI’s. Following, I took a position next to an enormous tree, that almost hid me completely – it was impossible to dig a foxhole, because the ground was like cement. There was a stone wall with some iron crosses above it, just next to the tree. 50 meters from there, General Gavin had established his CP in a cheese factory, but I didn’t know that until later.

Thus, this is my history of D-Day, the 6th of June, 1944, and I am quite glad to have survived it. Alas, July 4th, 1944 I received a wound during the attack of Hill 95 with H company, and I spent the two following months in an English hospital.

I returned to our camp at Wollaton Park just in time to participate in the September 17th assault in Holland. But, as we’ve said, this one is another story!

- Lew Milkovics, paratrooper, 508th/Howe company

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