Please be advised, some of the information below is intense.
The pilots flying the planes that dropped the Airborne men on D-Day were young and inexperienced. The more experienced pilots were given fighter and bomber duty. The pilots of the C-47 transports flying over Normandy panicked in the hail of anti-aircraft fire and flew much faster and lower than was safe for a parachute drop. Some men did not even have their chutes open before they hit the ground.
Dad has described for me what was supposed to happen, and what…did… happen. He was supposed to jump out, gain control and pull down on the chute risers to cause his legs to pull up just above ground, to soften the landing. Instead, upon exiting the plane, all his equipment was ripped from his body by the sudden high speed blast of air. Having about 125 pounds of stuff ripped off his jump suit in combination with his chute popping open at the same moment, caused him to swing violently, once, and then he was, more or less, pile-driven into the ground. Due to the outrageously fast stop, Dad’s helmet tried to keep going. He landed with such force that the suspension inside the helmet was not strong enough to keep it from smacking him on the top of the head. The chin strap also gave way causing the helmet to swing down in back and gave him a “karate chop” in the back of the neck. As a result, Dad got a concussion and cracked three vertebrate in his neck.
Since Dad had a concussion upon landing, his memories of D-Day and the time shortly after are somewhat sketchy. So I recently came up with an idea. It seemed to help bring out a few more details of his time in Normandy.
I discussed Dad’s memories with him, and then looked up stories of some of the other people Dad came into contact with on-line, and in various books. It helped put more of the details into place. And as I discussed this information with him…he was able to add more detail.
Dad was supposed to be dropped into drop zone “C”, a few miles east of Sainte-Marie-du-Mont. Instead he landed somewhere further south, in the vicinity of Veirville/Angoville-au-Plain. We believe that because not too long after landing, in the early morning hours of D-Day, Dad remembers working with another medic in that area by the name of Millard Moore. He and Dad were ferrying wounded to the aid station that had been set up in the church in Angoville-au-Plain. Working with very little, the two medics from the 501st who had set up the aid station there, saved the lives of close to a hundred people. They worked on soldiers and civilians alike, American, French and German. You can read their story here: http://www.normandythenandnow.com/the-scars-of-angoville-au-plain/. As a testimony to the history of what happened there, the blood stains have been left on the pews in the church to this day.
Using a captured German jeep, the other medic drove while Dad nursed whom ever they picked up …one, sometimes two at a time. While the other medic was cooking breakfast, a shell hit the church causing further casualties. It also took out the German jeep they were using. Dad does not remember what they used after that. They obviously managed to come up with some mode of transport, because Dad somehow wound up in Vierville the next day. In between, the Germans retook Angoville-au-Plain, which may be why he didn’t end up back at the church.
Col William Turner, commanding 1st battalion, was there in Vierville on the 7th when Col. Sink came into town. Col. Sink sent Turner south on the road (D913) to Saint-Come Du Mont with a group of six Sherman’s to take ground. Since 1st battalion did not have any medics, Col. Sink ordered Dad to accompany Turner, his men and the tanks.
There are a couple of junctions on that north-south road, that go east to Angoville-au-Plain. A little ways south of these two junctions is where Col. Turner was picked off by a German sniper while riding in the turret of the lead tank. Turner fell down inside the tank, on top of members of the crew, preventing the tank and the rest of the column behind it from continuing to move forward. Dad had been moving parallel to the tanks, down in the ditch, to minimize his exposure to enemy fire. When Dad saw what was happening, he jumped up out of the ditch, and made for the tank. He jumped up on the back and pulled himself up. Leaning down into the turret, he pulled Col. Turner up and out. The bullet had gone through Turner’s helmet causing a massive head wound. He was dead by the time Dad got him out. He determined that it was best to roll Col. Turner’s body off the side of the tank so that the column could get moving again.
That is as much as Dad remembers of the first two days. He was able to tell me more about Carentan though. More about that in the next post.