I was picked as one of the cadre that formed the 506th parachute regiment while stationed with the 501st parachute battalion in the Panama canal Zone. This was June 1942. I returned to Lawson Field, Ft. Benning, Georgia arriving there about July 1, 1942. The 506th regiment had it's beginning on July 20, 1942. We trained in the States until September, 1943. We sailed for England from New York on Sept. 5 and docked in Liverpool Sept. 15. The ship was the SS Samaria. We went by railway to the northeastern area of Wiltshire. My headquarters company 1st battalion 506 was stationed near Littlecote House which is near the village of Chilton Foliat. Regimental Headquarters was in Littlecote House. Most of the Regiment was stationed at Ramsbury and Aldbourne. There was an airfield near Ramsbury. Another airfield in the area was Membury. We took off from Membury for the Holland "Market Garden" operation. We trained very hard while in England from the time we arrived until D-day. We made both day and night jumps during our training. We went to an airfield near Honiton, Devonshire called Upottery on May 31, 1944. We would take off from there for the D-day operation.
Upon arrival at Upottery Airfield, on May 31, 1944, we were placed in a closely guarded area. after getting settled, we spent most of our time in the large briefing tent. In this tent there were wall maps, sand tables, and aerial photographs. We listened to lectures did an intense study of the maps, sand tables, and aerial photographs We learned that we would land on drop zone C just west of Ste-Marie-du-Mont, Normandy. This would be inland from a beach labeled Utah.
The food served while at Upottery was better than any we had since leaving the States. We had ice cream, white bread, steaks, and many other food items not usually served to us since arriving in England. We joked that we were being fattened for the kill.
We were issued our parachutes, ammunition, gas mask, life preservers, etc. a day before the expected departure for Normandy. This was June 3 since we originally were taking off from Upottery at about 11:00 PM on the evening of the 4th of June. As we now know, D-Day was delayed one day due to weather conditions. Our takeoff was during the late evening hours of June 5th.
We boarded truck with all of our equipment at about 9:00 PM on June 5th and was driven to our planes. We dismounted from the trucks, put on our parachutes, life preservers, all the other equipment we carried, and was issued seasick pills. We boarded our planes about 10:30 PM. It was no easy task getting on the plane with all of our equipment including arms and ammunition. I carried a 30.06 M-1 rifle, a 45 caliber Colt automatic pistol, trench knife, and hand grenades. I carried a large bright orange flag which I was to use in signalling any of the Beach landing forces if and when I saw them. We were also issued some French francs, how much, I don't remember. I still have some of this money. Each of us carried a dime store metal cricket for identification purposes. One squeeze, click-clack to be answered by two click-clacks.
My plane took off at 11:15 PM. As I remember, it was not quite dark at this time. There was some flying time used to get this huge number of planes in the proper formation for the flight to Normandy. We eventually headed south toward our destination and found ourselves flying at about 500 feet elevation over the English Channel. There was not a lot of talking during the flight across the Channel. I think most of the men were contemplating what was about to happen.
As we neared Guernsey island, the planes began to turn eastward toward the Normandy coast. When we were over the coast, the planes entered a cloud or fog bank. It was at this time that some of the planes lost formation. The pilots had been told to hold formation at all cost, most did but some did not. As a result of this, some of the paratroopers were dropped miles from their drop zone. The pilot of my plane stayed the course and we flew directly over our drop zone C. A mortar cart that was to be pushed out the plane door before we jumped was slow in getting out delayed us a bit.
When my parachute opened, I was directly above the church steeple of the church in Ste-Marie-du-Mont. The moon was full and there were scattered clouds which made every thing on the ground easy to see. When I looked down, I saw the picture of Ste-Marie-du-Mont. It looked just like the picture I had studied so intensely at Uppottery. I knew without a doubt that I was over the church steeple in that small French village.
I drifted to the edge of the village and landed with my Parachute caught in a small tree in a fence row. I was probably 75 ft from some buildings. I got out of my parachute and was looking around the area when I saw a shadowy figure about 150 ft along the fence row moving toward me. I clicked my cricket and received two clicks in return. We moved toward each other and I met my Battalion Sgt Major, Sgt Issac Cole. We were extremely happy to see each other.
At this time, troop carrier planes were still flying over and gunfire sounds were coming from every direction. It wasn't long before Sgt Cole and myself had gathered together 6 or 7 other paratroopers, none of whom I knew. We didn't bother to ask their names or what unit they belonged to. We were just glad to have this small group together in one place.
After some consultation, we decided to move toward the church and the center of the village. As we moved along the street, we decided to knock on a door and try to get some information about the enemy. An elderly French man answered our knock. One of the men in our group could speak some French and he asked him where the Germans were. Waving his hand over his head, he said, "every where." We proceeded on to the church and decided that we would enter and have half of our group stay on the ground floor and the others would go up into the steeple. Sgt Cole, myself and three of the other men would go up the steeple. After going to the upper reaches of the steeple, we found that we had could fire in every direction and had a good view in most every direction. We would do our best to prevent any German troops from moving through the village.
Daylight was not long in coming and when it did I looked toward Utah Beach and saw the most awe inspiring sight I had ever seen. There were hundreds and hundreds of ships of various kinds laying off the beach. I could see some of the ships firing on the beach. Later there were planes dropping bombs. After some time had passed, we saw the boats caring the landing forces moving toward the beach. We now new the sea landing forces were on their way.
We later saw a lone paratrooper moving along the sidewalk hugging the buildings as he moved. He was passing the corner of a building where another street entered the church square when he collapsed to the sidewalk. we heard the shot and we knew he had been hit. he didn't move after he fell so we knew that he was probably dead. This was a sobering event, At that moment, we realized that we were in a deadly game of kill or be killed. After a few minutes, a German soldier came from around the corner of the building where the dead paratrooper lay and begin to go through the trooper's pockets. We begin to fire our weapons at the German and dropped across the paratroopers body.
Later that morning two German soldiers came riding into the village driving a small vehicle. When they came into view below us we opened fire. One of them, I remember he had red hair, jumped of the vehicle started running along the sidewalk below us. He was looking left and right trying to determine where the gunfire was coming from. He didn't go far before he dropped to the sidewalk dead. The driver of the vehicle had placed it in reverse and it was moving backward. It backed into a building and stopped. The driver was slumped over dead by the time the vehicle stopped.
In the early afternoon I saw an American tank about 175 yards distance with it's gun pointed toward the steeple. I unfolded the flag and waved it at the tank. That wave did not save us from some shell fire. It was not the tank that was firing at us An artillery shell came screaming by the church steeple. From the sound, we knew the shell was coming from a different direction than the tank. A moment or two later we heard another artillery shell screaming toward us. This one hit the steeple above us with a very loud explosion. Debris begin to fall from the explosion and a big hole was opened in the steeple. It was a miracle that none of us were hurt.
Some beach forces and other paratroopers arrived in the village soon after the artillery shell hit the steeple and we came down from the steeple. Cole and myself went and pulled my parachute from the tree. I cut two panels out of it which I folded and placed in my back pack. I still have this piece of my parachute that lowered me to the ground in Normandy.
We moved out of Ste-Marie-du-Mont late that afternoon and went to Holdy where we had learned that My company commander, Capt. Patch and other members of my company were located. When we arrived at Holdy we were told that they had captured 4 artillery guns and that Sgt William King had bore sited one of the guns and fired it at the church steeple they could see in the distance. They thought that the steeple was being used by the Germans to direct artillery fire.
The area around the four guns were littered by dead Germans and a few paratroopers. The dead paratroopers were from our company mortar squad. They had landed in and around the area of the guns and were immediately killed before getting out of their parachutes.
By this time it was getting dark and we learned we would be heading toward Carentan the next morning, June 7.