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                        Last Man Out

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The two sentences that start this book were written one year apart, the first in the fall of 2008 and the next the fall of 2009.  Having been stuck after the first sentence, two days ago the title of this book came to me, the question of what form this book would take vanished. 

I had vacillated between a straight military retelling of what occurred during the Normandy Campaign or a more in depth look at some of the men who died there.  Telling the story from my point of view felt like it would take away from the subject matter.  Finally understanding that I am a story teller and not a writer that misguided idea was put aside.  Here is the story of 18 years of research into the Normandy Campaign that took men’s lives and changed families forever.

                                               Chapter 1
                                
July 1st 1944

It was his 21st birthday, and he had been dead for 25 days.  This paratrooper was but one among thousands of American dead during the Invasion of Normandy.  The only thing that separated him from 26,000 plus Americans who died liberating the Cotentin Peninsula was that Corporal Elmer Quentin Siddall was my father’s kid brother. 

This is the story of my search for information about the fate of my father Ewan’s youngest brother Elmer Quentin Siddall.  Through the years stories had been passed down in our family about Quent, the youngest of 5 boys from Sempronius, New York.  In the summer of 2002 I decided to attempt and uncover the true fate of the Uncle I’d never known, yet was always aware of.

Quent was born July 1, 1923 in Upstate New York.  He was the youngest of five boys born to Ernest and Margret Siddall.  The first three were born in Winnipeg, Manitoba Canada.  My father and Quent were born here in the states.  The family bought a farm on Dumplin Hill road in Upstate New York early in 1922 in the town of Sempronious outside the Village of Moravia. 

Childhood was filled with stories about life on the farm.  They grew up dirt poor, but always ate well, even during the Depression.  For as long as I could remember I would always pester my father with questions about his brother Quent.  Quent's picture stood on top of the short bookcase that was opposite the main door into my grandmother’s house.  He was always staring at me in his portrait taken with a proud smile on his face.  Only when I grew up did I realize he was wearing Air Corps insignia in that photo.

The story that was passed down through the family about Quent’s fate was that only 2 of 22 men from his stick go back.  The rest were killed in action (none of that was true).  Over the past 18 years of research I have found this to be a common story told amongst many families.  My father told me that after the war three of Quent’s buddies had contacted the family and told them that he was hit by flak or ground fire before he hit the ground and died a short time later.  As is the case with war stories, this was off, but not by much.

When I was eight or nine, my father and I were walking up Dumplin Hill Road when he told me the story about Uncle Quent being hit by a car at the bottom of the hill while sledding during the winter while he was about my age.  He said that Quent couldn’t stop himself on the ice covered road and shot out onto the main road where he was hit by a passing car.  The car’s axle penetrated Quent’s skull and he also had his leg run over by the rear tire and broke it in three places.

My grandmother was a Christian Scientist who didn’t believe in Doctors or Medicine, but called the local doctor right away in this case due to the severity of Quent’s wounds.  The way the story was told in the family, Quent was brought to the house and laid on the kitchen table.  The doctor arrived and said there was nothing that could be done, that the injuries were too severe.  My grandmother held Quent for 3 days and nights praying over him.  He did eventually recover from this accident only to be killed 10 ½ years later in Normandy.

As with the account of his death in Normandy, the above story was off, but only by a little bit.  I later located a newspaper article that told of my Uncle being struck by a car and suffering those injuries, but he was taken to a hospital instead of recovering at home. On top of that, the newspaper account in 1933 showed that he was injured on Christmas Eve.

I think this was one of the main reasons I became interested in the fate of my uncle.  Why had he been allowed to not only survive this accident, but eventually become a paratrooper?  In the summer of 1943 the training and conditioning of the paratroopers was second to none.  Only those in the best physical condition survived the training process.  I always imagined that there was some grand reason why he had been allowed to not just survive the accident but flourish. 

That is the reason for my quest, to find out what he had done in Normandy before he was killed.  Had he saved someone or done something that in some small way had changed the course of someone else’s history?  Or was it just the luck of the draw, and his had run its course.

Growing up I heard the stories and was told Quent served in the 82nd Airborne and that he had died on D-Day.  I used to visit his grave when we drove the thirty miles to my grandmother’s farm outside of Moravia, New York.   There my father kept a garden for my grandmother.  We used to help out with whatever needed to be done around the farm.  It had not been a working farm since the boys had left home.  One uncle had stayed behind and lived with Nana Siddall until he died at the age of 56 in the 1972.  My grandmother passed away in 1976 at the age of 92. 

Grandmother’s possessions were split up between the three surviving sons, my father Ewan and Uncle’s Al and Bert.  I was almost 14 when she died.  I wish I’d been able to ask her more about her son Quent, but that was something I never felt comfortable doing.  She was of German stock and while friendly towards me, always a little distant.  That and the fact we were 78 years apart. 

What I didn’t realize at the time was that my uncle from Florida had taken all of Nana’s personal correspondence back with him to Florida.  Years later this would be discovered during the research into the fate of Quent.

As I grew older, interest in the war waned after realizing that it wasn’t the glorious adventure that we saw in the movies.  It was an ugly business that men tried to survive.  Their thoughts weren’t of glory, but of staying alive until the next day.  War had lost its allure, and my interest. 

I never lost my fascination with stories that my father told me about his service as a Navigator on a B-17 or his time in a German Prison Camp.  To this day they are seared into my brain, a fact that I am now extremely grateful now that my father has passed into history.

The years passed and life moved on.  I started a music business named after my Uncle EQS Music, EQ being a music term and his initials EQS which stood for Elmer Quentin Siddall.  From the late 1988 through 2002 I traveled the country and even went to Europe a few times in the course of running my business.

During the summer of 2002 I was aimlessly surfing the web when I wondered if I could find out anything about my uncle by using this new search engine called Google.  The first thing I discovered was a post by someone on a message board looking for information about his uncle who was killed on D-Day, John O’Neill.  He said his uncle was Company B 307th Airborne Engineer Battalion.  This piqued my interest, as that was my uncle’s unit as well. 

That posting made me think that I should use the web to search for my uncle’s fate.  I did research that day and found a website that told how to send for my uncle’s IDPF which stands for Individual Deceased Personnel File.  Every soldier who dies while in the military receives one of these.  They contain burial information and any correspondence between the government and the family.

I sent away for his IDPF in the fall of 2002 and it arrived at our house the next spring.  These reports take up to 6 months or longer to arrive.  Included with Quent’s report was the coordinates where his body was buried in an isolated grave on the battlefield and his unit designation.  It reported his unit as Company B of the 307th Engineers, part of the 82nd Airborne.

I went back to Google and typed in Company B 307 and Normandy.  If it had been any other day I would have just looked at the first page of links with that search criteria and then gone onto something else.  I went about 10 pages worth of links down and found a link to a newspaper article in a Tennessee newspaper. 

It was about some local Veterans in central Tennessee receiving a 55th anniversary medal for their participation in D-Day.  This article was a few years old, but still available on their site.  They mentioned one man a Mr. Samuel Ellis who served as a paratrooper during WWII.  His unit was listed as Company B 307, 82nd Airborne.  I then decided to look up Mr. Ellis and see if he was still alive.

It took about two minutes to find his number using the web.  I called and a very gracious woman answered the phone.  This I would find out later turned out to me Mrs. Ruth Ellis.  I then explained that I was looking for information about my uncle who was killed in WWII and wondered if Mr. Ellis was available to speak.  She said indeed he was, and she’d put him right on the phone.  A very southern voice then came out of my phone the next few seconds.  He said his name was Sam and what could he do for me?

I told him about my search for my uncle Quent and what I’d learned so far.  I told him of the IDPF and the listing of Company B 307.  He said to hold the line a moment, and he’d be right back.  About one minute later he got back on the phone and said that he had a listing of every man who served in B 307 for the war and his name was indeed there!  I was floored by this, after all this time I was speaking with someone who served with my uncle.  We spoke for another 10 minutes and he asked for my name and address as he had some documents to send me.

A week later a package arrived in the mail that contained these lists called flight manifests.  At that time I was not familiar with them.  I started reading through these any deduced that they were a listing of what paratroopers were in what plane.  In this case it was the jump for Normandy.  At the bottom of one page was my uncle’s name, Elmer Q. Siddall Corporal.  He was listed as jumping last in his stick.  I just stared at this piece of paper for 3 minutes.  I had never dreamed that such a document existed!

The first thing I did was to call my father and tell him what I’d just received.  He was used to my questions about his brother, but now I had something I could tell him.  He wasn’t as excited as I’d thought he’d be, but at the time I wrote that off to his health problems.  Later I was to learn that wasn’t the case.  But for the moment I was glad I was able to tell my father of this find.

The next thing I did was to call Sam Ellis back and thank him for sending me these documents.  Not only had he sent me the flight manifests, he sent me the list of all the men who had served in Company B for the war.  I then asked him if he had any contact information for any of the men who jumped into Normandy.  He said indeed he did.  I would later find out the Mr. Ellis was a man who never threw away anything that pertained to his service in the Military.  He had collected many 307 documents after the war.

He gave me a name to call, Al Cappa who was the jumpmaster of my uncle’s stick.  A stick is a group of paratroopers in one plane.  A jumpmaster is the lead man out of the plane, usually an Officer and at least a Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO).  Mr. Ellis explained that in the 307th the last man out was usually a Corporal and was an assistant squad leader.  He said they referred to them as assistant jumpmasters, other regiments called them pushers.

I then proceeded to call Mr. Alfred Cappa in Rapid City South Dakota.  Mrs. Cappa answered the phone, and I explained I was looking for Lt Al Cappa and she said to hold on a moment.  To say I was nervous was an understatement!  I was about to speak with one of the last me to be with my uncle before his death. 

A strong voice then came on the phone and I stated the purpose of my call.  He then said to speak slower and louder, that he was almost deaf.  I tried to slow down and speak louder, which did finally work.  Mr. Cappa said no, he didn’t remember my uncle, but did tell me of experience after jumping from the plane.  He landed in the middle of a town called St. Sauveur le Vicomte.  He said he was hidden out by the French people of the village for over a week. 

He then told me about other parts of his experience in Normandy.  He then said he had some photos of B Company in Burbage England on parade and would I like some copies?  I said I indeed would love to see them.  He took down my name and address and said that he would get them out promptly.  Before ending our conversation, he gave the name and number of Carroll Rumbaugh in Florida.  He said he was a 2nd Platoon man and had great recall.   

I hung up the phone and realized he was the closest I was ever going to get to finding someone who was with my uncle in Normandy.  It was a bittersweet experience. 

I then phoned Carroll Rumbaugh with the number Mr. Cappa had provided.  When the person answered the phone, I asked for Mr. Carroll Rumbaugh.  The man on the other end of the line said I’m not Carroll Rumbaugh, but that he knew him.  He asked me what the call was about and I told me the story of my search.  He laughed and said he name was Jim Rightley. 

He said that he hadn’t kept in touch with anyone except Al Cappa after the war.  Mr. Rightley said that Al was his assistant platoon leader.  He figured Al who was then in his 90’s must have mixed up the name and number.  He said he didn’t remember my uncle, but that he must have been one of the replacements that they received in the UK.

We then spoke for the next hour about his experiences in Normandy.  He said that he only saw one man from B 307 on the ground in Normandy.  He said he had rounded up a large number of 508 men and being a First Lieutenant was the ranking officer. 

Lt Rightley’s mission was to blow up a bridge over the Douve River near the town of Etienvilleor Pont L’Abee.  They were unable to find any of the bundles from his aircraft (bundles are just that, bundles of equipment, in this case explosives).   They were in several firefights the first day.  At the end of the first day Lt Rightley and his men bedded down next to a hedgerow.  He posted guards at both entrances to the field. 

Shortly after posting, a German platoon came from one end of the hedgerow firing towards them.  Rightley thought the Germans must have captured or killed the men posted at that end of the field.  While organizing a defense he was wounded in the left shoulder.  While returning fire Rightley was hit again, this time in the face.  The bullet traveled around his skull and came out his right shoulder.  He says “At least they hit the hardest part of my body, my face!”  He then ordered a withdrawal through the other corner of the hedgerow. 

Rightley picks up the story again “We left the one field and started setting up another defensive position expecting the Germans to come through the same spot we had just come through.  They did, but what we didn’t expect was to be flanked from behind by another platoon.  I was hit in the back for my third wound of the fight, and this one knocked me out of the war.  I didn’t even realize I had been wounded twice already until the third one hit me”. 

“The Germans put me on a cart with a large number of German dead and started wheeling me away.  They took me to a barn where I was left with other wounded paratroopers.  I don’t remember much of the night due to my wounds.  The next day I was put on a truck with other POW’s and we were taken away.  Later that day an American plane strafed our column.  Our trucks weren’t marked as POW as they should have been.  Our column got shot up pretty bad.  I remember seeing one of the 307th guys dead by the side of the road.  Even in my rough shape I rolled off the truck and into a ditch next to the guards”. 

Lt Rightley didn’t realize it but two men from B 307 had been killed in the strafing that killed 20 men in total.  The two men killed from the 307th were 2nd Lt James L. Durham and Corporal Benjamin L. McKeeby.  Rightley said Durham was a replacement Lieutenant and that they called him Bull.  Durham hailed from Tennessee and this was his first combat jump. 

At this point in the conversation Lt Rightley asked me if I had any other 307th phone numbers besides his and Al Cappas and I said I just had Sam Ellis.  Lt Rightley gave me the number for Carroll Rumbaugh in Florida.  I thanked him for taking the time to speak with me and asked if it would be alright to call him back in the future.  He said that it would be fine with him.  We then ended the call and I called the number for Carroll Rumbaugh.

The call to Carroll Rumbaugh changed the nature of the search from information about my uncle’s fate to a realization that there were thousands of untold stories out there and the men who knew them were still here.  For myself I realized that this was the opportunity of a lifetime.  When younger I wished I could have spoken with the men at Cemetery Ridge and asked them what they witnessed there.  This was my chance with the WWII veterans. 

I could talk to men who fought in Normandy.  It was also apparent that time was growing short.  In 2003 most of the men left were in their early 80’s.  I had started with 307th Company B and 6 years later would speak with over 700 veterans of WWII, most of them having served in the Normandy Invasion.

Carroll Rumbaugh answered the phone on the second ring, and this time made sure to verify that this was the right man.  I asked for Mr. Carroll Rumbaugh of Company B 307th and he said I had the right man.  After explaining the reason for the call Rumbaugh spoke for quite a while about his time in Company B.  He started with the fact that he remembered my uncle in the fact that he was quite and stocky and kept to himself. 

He then told me of his jump into Normandy, explaining that this was his third combat jump, following Sicily and Italy.  Rumbaugh said that after getting out of his chute he got together with another man from his stick and they set out to locate more 307th men. 

A short time later they ran into a small group of 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment men led by an officer.  A short time later the group was at a house asking for directions when a car came roaring down the road from the northeast.  As the car sped towards them the entire group opened fire, causing the car to crash into the house.  After the firing ceased they discovered two bodies, one laying in the road and one dead in the car.  He said there was no trace of the driver.  He and the other 307th man then discussed getting the hell away from these men who were new to combat. 

They left the group and headed east, ending up later in the day in St. Mere Eglise.  This story is what started me on my journey of the past six years, and culminates in this book.  It was supposed to be about one man and has evolved into the story of hundreds.  You cannot tell the story of just one man, as so many are intertwined.

                                                             Chapter 2

                                                          Chalk 37

Corporal Siddall joined the 307th March 16, 1944.  He had trained with the 541st Parachute Infantry Regiment in the States.  The 541st was the last Parachute Regiment to train as a unit at Benning.  The 541st was formed in August of 1943 at Ft. Benning and October of 1944 saw the unit moving to Camp Mackall in North Carolina. 

It was determined during the later part of 1943 that the 541st would send approximately 1200 men to the European theater. They went as replacements and overstrength manpower to bring the other Parachute Regiments up to strength.  January 1944 the men from the 541st left Camp Mackall and the 541st and were sent to Ft. Meade in Maryland outside of Washington, D.C. 

They became part of the 2nd Replacement Regiment.  They left from New York during the second week of February 1944 for Northern Ireland.  The trip lasted 11 days and they came ashore at Belfast.  During their stay in Northern Ireland PT was their main activity.  They did not jump or do much training.  They went to England Mid-March and joined the 8th Replacement Depot.

Siddall joined the 307th Airborne Engineer Battalion on March 16, 1944 with 35 other men.  He was assigned to Company B and joined them in Burbage, England.  Company B had 23 men killed and more wounded in Naples, Italy when their barracks exploded on October 10th the previous year.  The 36 that joined in March of 1944 were replacements for the men killed and wounded during the Naples blast.  The next 10 weeks they trained and had one practice jump in England. 

Engineer duties included disarming landmines, setting landmines, building bridges, blowing bridges, creating roads and other construction and service duties.  Each Regiment in the 82nd had a Company assigned from the 307th Battalion.  Co A supported the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment, Company B the 505th, Company C the 504th and Co D supported the 508th Prcht Inf after Normandy. 

Operation Overlord was the overall name for the Invasion of Normandy.  The Airborne part was called Operation Neptune.  Normally Company B would jump with the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment.  That was changed for the Normandy jump due to the fact that the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment had been participated in the Anzio campaign and was not combat ready for the Normandy Invasion. 

Two new Regiments were attached to the 82nd Airborne Division in place of the 504th.  The 507th and 508th Parachute Infantry Regiments were attached.  Each Regiment included their own platoon of Demolitionists but they did not have an Engineer Company attached as they were new to the Division.  The 507th didn’t require any additional men for their part of the Invasion. 

The 508th was tasked with blowing up a bridge south of Etienville that crossed the Douve River.  More specifically the 2nd Battalion of the 508th was assigned this task.  The 1st and 2nd Platoons of Company B were attached to the 508th for this portion of the mission.  3rd Platoon would remain with their native unit the 505th.

Engineer Companies were broken down into a Headquarters group and three Platoons.  The Headquarters group consisted of the Company Commander usually a Captain, the First Sergeant, Supply Sergeant, Supply Clerk, Company Clerk and a Radio Operator. 

The Platoon consisted of 3 squads and a smaller version of the Headquarters group.  The Headquarters group had one First Lieutenant the Platoon Leader, one Second Lieutenant the Assistant Platoon Leader, one Staff Sergeant known as the Platoon Sergeant, Radio Operator and a Medic.  The squad consisted of a Sergeant who was the Squad Leader and a Corporal who was the Assistant Squad Leader and 12 enlisted men, Privates First Class and Privates. 

Going into Normandy each Platoon had one BAR man and Ammunition Bearer and one Bazooka man and Ammunition Bearer.  Each man also carried a rifle as well.  Every man in an Engineer Company was an Engineer first, but would also fight as Infantry if the need arose.

Corporal Siddall came into Company B as a Radio Operator and became the Assistant Squad Leader of 3rd Squad 2nd Platoon.  His Sergeant was John Gabrielson and the rest of the squad consisted of 12 men of the rank of Private.  The men were Leo Brookins, Joe Clancy, John Connelly Jr., Ralph Cunningham, Moses DeSouza, Charlie Edmondson, Roy Kreiser, Gaylord Lansrud, Joe McMurdy, Leslie Petersen, Raymond “Red” Thomas and Jacob Wagner. 

Siddall and four other men in his squad joined Company B Mid-March of 1944, Charlie Edmondson, Moses DeSouza, Leslie Petersen and John Connelly Jr.  The five new men were from a cross-section of America.  DeSouza was from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and was one of the few Jewish men in the 307th.  Edmondson hailed from Gadsden, Alabama the son of Mill Workers, Connelly the only married man of the group of 5 came from Farmington, Maine. 

Leslie Petersen came from SE Turner, Oregon and Siddall was from Moravia, New York in the Finger Lakes Region, a farmer’s son.  Edmondson, Petersen and Siddall were in the service before the start of the war.  Four of the five new men in 3rd Squad 2nd Platoon would be killed during the Normandy Campaign.

Company B had arrived in Burbage, England town in the British Mid-Lands early 1944.  Company B had jumped in Sicily and Italy and was now training for their next mission.  New men were being integrated into the unit, and field exercises were being run.  The officers of Company B, being Engineers made the training more realistic.  They would set off blasting caps behind the men to simulate the sound of combat.  Except for the one practice jump the training was ground based.

One of the humorous stories during training was told by Private Leslie Petersen.  One day while they were being instructed on how to lay a charge, Lieutenant Cappa started crimping blasting caps with his teeth.  The new men all had to look away figuring that Cappa would blow his head off doing this.  He would just laugh and keep crimping.  They were soon told that Lieutenant Cappa had grown up working in the mines of South Dakota and explosives were second nature to him. 

Company B was housed in an Old Hosiery factory in Burbage right across from the Village Pub.  Due to a lack of bathing facilities in their barracks the locals volunteered to take in some men.   Once a week Company B men would bathe at an adopted families house.  They would also have supper there.  The hospitality of the Burbage people made many a lifelong friend of the paratroopers stationed in their midst.  In fact all four of the Staff Sergeants in Company B brought home English Brides after the war.

Baseball games, eating and drinking at the local pub and visiting local families were the biggest pastimes.  Men also went on leave to all points of England.  A few years back I discovered that my uncle had gone to the Yorkshire area and visited with family there.  He never made mention of this in many of his letters home. 

Some of the 307th men while stationed in Northern Ireland had snuck across the border to Ireland.  This was expressly forbidden, as Ireland was neutral during the war.  If the men had been caught there they would have been detained until the end of the war.  If they had been discovered after returning their asses would promptly be handed to them.  Two of the men who made the trip were two Sergeants, Ben McKeeby and Frank Miale.  Staff Sergeant Miale said that he and McKeeby went trying to locate some of McKeeby’s relatives but were unsuccessful. 

Siddall wrote many letters home to his family members.  In them he detailed what was to happen if he didn’t return from combat.  He explained in detail to his mother where his bank accounts were and how much they contained.  His letters always spoke of his return and the purchase of another motorcycle, hopefully within a year. 

My father was also stationed in England with the 8th Air Force.  He was a Navigator in a B-17 stationed in Kimbolton.  Soon after arriving in England and securing leave he went to visit his brother.  When he arrived he found that the 307th had moved out and missed his brother by just a few days. 

Company B went to two different Airfields as 3rd Platoon was still attached to the 505th they went to Spanhoe.  1st and 2nd Platoons went to Saltby Airfield where the 508th was flying out of.  At Saltby Company B was put into six planes and were stuck at the tail end of Serial 21.  A serial is the Air Corps term for a formation of planes.  Saltby had two Serials for a total of 60 planes flying.  Company B was the last six planes in the formation and this would cost them going into Normandy. 

All was normal until they hit the well known fog bank after making landfall over the west coast.  A serial is broken down into groups of nine planes called flights.  Because they were the last six planes the first three flew in front of and to the left of the last three.  The first three planes contained Company Headquarters and 2nd Platoon. 

Chalk # 39 (Chalk is the term for the paratroopers in an airplane, the chalk number would be written by the door) contained Company Commander Captain William Johnson and the First Sergeant John Katona along with the 2nd Squad.  Chalk #38 contained the 2nd Squad and Chalk 37 contained the 1st Squad.  Chalks 40, 41 and 42 contained the 1st Platoon with the same Squad Breakdown.

Planes 37 and 39 after coming out of the cloudbank made their way towards the Drop Zone and dropped their two sticks close to DZ N.  Plane 38 was carrying 2nd Platoon 3rd Squad led by Sergeant Gabrielson.  They became separated from the 37 and 39.  Behind them planes 40, 41 and 42 followed 38. 

Plane 38 was named Strange Cargo was piloted by 1st Lieutenant Ted Shreve and his co-pilot Second Lieutenant Ted Jameson.  The Navigator was Second Lieutenant Elbert Lipman, Radio Operator was Sergeant Ashley Fleming and the Crew Chief was Technical Sergeant John Webb.  Shreve the pilot was an interesting man according to those who served with him.  The most telling account is from one of his classmates at flight school. 

George Merz was a pilot in the 61st Troop Carrier Squadron.  While being interviewed about his D-day mission Shreve’s name was mentioned.  Merz laughed and said Shreve and he had served together in training.  On graduation day Shreve needed a few more hours of flight time to graduate according to Merz.  When Shreve came in for his landing Merz said it was perfect, except Shreve forgot to lower the wheels so came in belly first.  He said that when it came to Shreve nothing surprised him.

Jameson the co-pilot, Lipman the Navigator and Webb the crew chief were interviewed by the author about their D-day mission.  Jameson said that when they came out of the Fog Bank they had lost the rest of their element.  When the heavy flak started over the town of St. Sauveur le-Vicomte Shreve ordered Jameson to give the Green Light to jump to the Paratroopers. 

When interviewed about the mission Lipman the Navigator just said he hung onto his seat and prayed he wouldn’t get killed.  The crew chief Webb said that the mission was fairly normal.  When the green light came on the men went out in a matter of seconds with no delay. 

1st Lieutenant Al Cappa Jumpmaster (first man out) jumped at 0208 and landed in the center of St. Sauveur Le-Vicomte.  He searched until daylight but was unable to locate any of his stick. 

The second man out was Sergeant Gabrielson the squad leader followed by Private First Class Dobson 2nd Platoon’s radio man.  Private Joe Clancy followed Dobson out of the plane.  Dobson and Clancy got together before dawn just out side of St. Sauveur le-Vicomte. Sergeant Gabrielson came down on a roof in the town, and was on his own until June 8th when he joined up with Dobson and Clancy. 

Leslie Petersen jumped next and wandered until dawn when he approached a house to ask for directions.  When the woman answered the door and saw Petersen she let out a blood curdling scream and slammed it in his face.  He went behind her house and settled into a walled garden.

The sixth man was out was Private Leo Brookings who was captured.  Next came Private Roy Kreiser an original Company B member a veteran of the Sicily and Italy jumps.  He and Private Raymond “Red” Thomas got together on the ground shortly after the jump.  Thomas had jumped 11th in the stick. 

Privates John Connelly Jr. and Charlie Edmondson were next out and ended up together by the Catholic Abbey on the eastern edge of town.  The Boys School located by the Abbey has a trench dog as a bomb shelter.  Connelly and Edmondson decide to avail themselves of this ready made defensive position.  Moses DeSouza jumps next in front of Red Thomas.  Then Private Joe McCurdy jumps followed by Privates Ralph Cunningham and Jacob Wagner.

The next to last man out of the plane is Private Gaylord Lansrud  followed by the last man out assistant jumpmaster Corporal Quentin Siddall.  They land somewhere between St. Sauveur le-Vicomte and Etienville.    Lansrud never ran into any of his stick, when morning came he burrowed into a hedgerow and waited. 

This is the first of four Company B sticks dropped short of their Drop Zone.  This stick lands 6.3 miles west of DZ N.   They have the double misfortune of being dropped on top of the 1057th Infantry Regiment of the 91st Air Landing Division of the German Army.  This unit was specifically created to defeat an airborne invasion.  The 2nd Battalion of the 1057th was bivouacked in the area of St. Sauveur le-Vicomte.  This stick landed in the middle of this concentration of German Troops. 

Oddly enough there were no Germans in the town itself it seems at 0208.  Lieutenant Cappa searched the area until morning without finding another man.  The local townspeople risked death by helping Cappa bury his chute and hiding him in the upstairs of a bicycle shop. 

Cappa was fed by the locals for five days until they were ordered to evacuate by the Germans.  Cappa a veteran of Sicily and Italy decided to stay put and observe the Germans.  He would remain there until St. Sauveur le-Vicomte was liberated on June 16th by the 505th.  Cappa rejoined the unit the same day, spending 11 days trapped in the town.

Dobson and Clancy moved around the St. Sauveur le-Vicomte area and met up with Sergeant Gabrielson on June 8th.  During that time they reported seeing 72 men cross the Douve River including the 508th Parachute Infantry 3rd Battalion Commander Lieutenant Colonel Mendez. 

Dobson and Clancy also came across the wreckage of a 101st Airborne Plane in the Bois de Limors.  This was a stick of 501st Company D that crashed killing the crew and all paratroopers.  They traveled east and on June 13th met an American Patrol at Etienville.  They reported back to the 307th on June 14th at 1700 hours.

Private Petersen who jumped fifth in the stick ended up in a walled garden outside of St. Sauveur le-Vicomte.  He rejoined the 307th on June 16th after the town fell to the 505th.  He had lived off of the food from the garden.  Petersen said the woman of the house never realized he was there.

This covers the first five men in this stick of 16.  They all returned to the 307th.  The rest of the stick was not as fortunate.  The Germans were in greater number outside of the town, encamped in the country.  The planes travelled west to east across the peninsula. 

The Douve River went south and north past St. Sauveur le-Vicomte the town sits on the western bank of the river.  The first 5 men who landed on the western side eventually rejoined Company B.  The ones who landed on the east side of the Douve were either killed or captured.  The next man out was Private Leo Brookins and he was captured.  No details exist of his capture by the Germans.

The next man was Roy Kreiser who joined up with Red Thomas on the ground.  They were captured soon after hitting the ground.  The Germans ordered them to throw down their weapons.  Thomas discarded his while Kreiser raised his above his head trying to smash it.  Kreiser never had the chance to finish, he was shot dead where he stood, Thomas taken prisoner. 

Connelly and Edmondson were hunkered down in the air raid trench outside of the Boys School at the Abbey east of town.  The unit stationed at the Abbey was a Bakery Company for the 709th Infantry Division.  While searching for American Paratroopers they ran into Connelly and Edmondson’s position. 

The two Americans decided to fight it out instead of surrendering.  They held the Germans off for quite awhile, killing one.  Connelly was mortally wounded while Edmondson continued to maintain fire on their attackers.  Edmondson was wounded and raised his hands in surrender.  The Germans ran over to Edmondson and killed him where he stood.

Ralph Cunningham had the misfortune of walking down the road next to the Abbey.  The men from the 709th captured him and put him up against the wall outside of the Abbey and executed him on the spot.  The three men were buried together by the side of the road outside of the Abbey gates. 

Two of the Germans involved in this attack were Heinrich Ploesser and Karl Surborg.  They were interviewed as POWs at Ft. Devens in Massachusetts January 9, 1946 by the Intelligence Division Battalion 1st Service Command.  It was determined that Surborg was on guard duty in the area and while returning to the Abbey saw the graves of the three American Paratroopers.  Ploesser denied involvement in the attack he did admit to assisting with the burials.  It is further noted that Ploesser’s reliability is questioned. A War Crimes case was being prepared against him as either a principal or accessory participant. 

There are innumerable cases during war where on all sides where a man is shot after surrendering after they are disabled or out of ammunition.  In the heat of battle it is dicey at best to surrender after killing one of the enemies.  The Germans in this case were not front line troops but bakers.  The average German soldier had also been told that the average American Paratrooper was a hardened criminal and killer and they lost a fellow member in this attack. 

Viewed in this light the killing of Edmondson can be seen as an extension of combat.  But with the account of Cunningham’s murder on the road to Selsoif the shooting of Edmondson becomes murder.  Cunningham had nothing to do with the previous action, yet was murdered because of it.

Privates McCurdy and Wagner are captured at some point after the jump and become POWs.  Gaylord Lansrud after moving cautiously during the early morning hours holes up in a hedgerow.  Lansrud can hear Germans all around him during the day. 

During the afternoon he hears voices getting closer then a bayonet parting the leaves in front of his face.  He steps out of the hedgerow to be faced with several German weapons pointed at him.  A soldier moved to search him and in his excitement discharged his weapon at the feet of Lansrud.  He said he didn’t jump when this happened because he figured they were going to kill him no matter what. 

Lansrud had viewed many German wounded in the area and assumed he would be blamed for this.  They removed his shoes and sat him down by a tree in the middle of the field he was in.  He was then taken to a barn that had a large number of wounded American POWs there including one of his platoon Leaders.  Lansrud would spend the rest of the war as a POW.

This leaves two men from this stick with their stories untold.  Private Moses DeSouza and Corporal Quentin Siddall.  DeSouza jumped between Edmondson and Thomas.  DeSouza’s body is not located until June 12th.  Where his body was recovered has not been determined.  It was either found in the area where he jumped or the Montebourg area.  His report of burial shows the original date of death as June 12th

DeSouza is an unusual due to his heritage, being a Jewish Paratrooper.  There are documented instances of Jewish Paratroopers being executed after capture.  DeSouza jumped right after Connelly and Edmondson yet wasn’t with them on the ground.  He and Connelly were friends as they used to go visit a family in Burbage together.  Something happened to him that prevented him from joining Connelly on the ground.

The last man out of this stick was Quentin Siddall.  His fate is one of the mysteries of the paratrooper drop.  The first thirteen men from his stick land in and around St. Sauveur le-Vicomte.  Where Wagner comes down is unknown.  Lansrud comes down across the Douve on the east side as well as Siddall.  No first hand accounts of his fate exist.  The few things known are that he came down east of St. Sauveur le-Vicomte and died shortly after landing. 

The family has a few letters in their possession that speak to his fate.  The first is written by the Company Commander Captain David G. Connally Jr..  The letter is written to Second Lieutenant Ewan Siddall, Quentin’s older brother.  Ewan Siddall is stationed in England as a Navigator in a B-17.  The letter was written August 16, 1944.  In the letter it states that due to censorship rules he can’t give too many details but believe that he may be a POW. 

The second letter was written after the war in October of 1945 to Quent’s mother.  In the letter the newest Company Commander states that your son was part of a secret mission and that everyone in his plane was killed. 

Margaret Siddall wrote in the left hand margin crossing this part out stating that this is not true that three men who served with Quentin had contacted the family.  She never writes anywhere what they said to her.  My father only remembers that after coming home that he was told by men who served with Quentin that he was wounded on the way down and died shortly after.

Siddall’s IDPF shows that his body was buried in an isolated grave Northeast of St. Mere Eglise.  The coordinates listed are an isolated farm, but it is ten miles from where he came down.  He is buried with Private Donn Cummings of the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment in the same isolated grave.  Both Siddall and Cummings came down within two miles of Orglandes, both were severely wounded on the jump. 

Further research into other men buried on July 1, 1944 in the Blosville Cemetery shows that there were typographical errors on some of the reports of burial.  One mans coordinates show him buried by in the la Fiere area, when in fact his body was retrieved far south of there in Baupte. 

One day while looking at a 1:25,000 map (the tactical maps used for the campaign) and looking at Siddall’s burial coordinates (six digit numbers in the 111:222 format) which begins with a 3 what number written poorly or what would be the most likely typing error.  Poorly written 2’s can look like a 3 and a 2 or 4 would be the most likely typing errors. 

Changing the first digit to a 4 would put his burial location in the English Channel.  However when changed to a 2 would put Siddall and Cummings burial location where the Orglandes field hospital was.  This is where the wounded American POWs were taken that had been wounded in the area from St. Sauveur le-Vicomte to Etienville.  This would make much more sense that having the bodies 10 miles to the east.

The senior American Officer at Orglandes was Captain Brian Beaudin of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment.  He had been captured the first day and was sent to the hospital.  He was a Battalion Surgeon with the 3rd Battalion.  He would spend the next 11 days there treating the wounded American POWs.  When interviewed he stated that there were a few men who were brought in that died before getting into the hospital.  This would fit with what happened to Siddall and Cummings as well as several other men who were found buried in the area of the hospital.

                   Chapter 3

Over and Out

The fog of war was an apt phrase to describe the situation in First Lieutenant William E. Hitzaler’s aircraft.  Shortly after 0220 hours 6 June 1944 Hitztaler’s aircraft became separated from his formation after running into low cloud cover shortly after passing over Ponte du Rozel on the west coast of the Cotentin Peninsula.  First Lieutenant Berlin Middlebrooks, Hitztaler’s wing man last saw the Hitztaler climbing above the cloud cover.  Within a few minutes 18 paratroopers would be dropped 6 miles northwest of their Drop Zone and Hitztaler and his crew would be on the ground as well.

The aircraft was from the 14th Troop Carrier Squadron, 61st Troop Carrier Group flying out of the Barkston Heath Airfield in eastern England.  They were one of 818 C-47s loaded with paratroopers that made up the air armada for the invasion of Normandy.  Their cargo was a stick of 19 Paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment Company F.  The aircraft was Chalk 31 out of the 36 planes in serial number 24, their tail number 42-23638. 

It was an uneventful flight until passing over the Guernsey Islands where the aircraft was hit by flack.  Paratrooper Private Donn Cummings yelled out “my eyes I can’t see” after one of the windows shattered.  In the next few minutes the red light came on for them to stand up and hook up.  They came under ground fire from machine guns, wounding troopers Private Charles “Slim” Stout. 

First Lieutenant Walter “Chris” Heisler describes what happened next “I unhooked to take a look at Stout, who in an earlier night exercise refused to jump.  I wanted to make sure that this wasn’t the case now.  After determining that he was indeed wounded Stout had to be unhooked due to the severity of his wounds”.

In the cockpit they heard the paratroopers yelling someone was hit.  Shortly after that Hitztaler and the Co-Pilot Second Lieutenant Stanley Edwards Jr. each spotted a river in the distance.  In Hitztaler’s account given at the end of June 1944 and Edwards book which came out 60 years they both make mention of this fact. 

They said they had been told that the troopers had to be dropped before crossing the river.  Unfortunately for the paratroopers this was the wrong river.  Their Drop Zone T was just before the Merderet River 7 miles to the east.  The river that Hitztaler and Edwards both saw was the Douve.  The pilot Hitztaler looked out of his window on the left and noticed a large fire in the distance just after spotting the river.  The order was given to give the green light ordering the paratroopers to jump.

In a strange twist of fate the only break the paratroopers had this night occurred because of the wounding of Stout.  Since Heisler was the jumpmaster it was his job to lead the stick out.  He was unhooked and checking on Stout when the light came on.  He had to get back to his feet and get back to the door of the plane and hook up. 

That delay meant he ended up missing the river and the flooded are around it.  It also meant the rest of the stick would at least land on the east side of the river.  Heisler led his stick out of the aircraft leaving behind Private Stout who was slumped on the seat.  Donn Cummings who had been wounded in the eyes jumped as well.

After dropping the paratroopers Hitztaler turned the aircraft northeast towards England.  He was under the impression that he was just northwest of St. Mere Eglise when in reality he was northwest of the village of Orglandes 5 ½ miles west of St. Mere Eglise.  Hitztaler realized that the rudder control was jammed and the plane was slowly healing over to the left. The plane ended up doing a complete u-turn and circled back over the peninsula. 

Hitztaler’s narrative given on 22 June 1944 he talks of the possibility of a water landing but decides against it due to the fact he feels that some of his crew can’t swim and the life rafts in the back of the plane probably suffered damage from the earlier machine gun fire.  At this point there is the wounded paratrooper in the back of the plane and the 5 man crew.  At this point Hitztaler’s narrative he thinks they are coming back over the coast when picked up by spotlights when they are really approaching Valognes 8 miles inland.

After evading the searchlights of Valognes by climbing into the clouds the aircraft could not escape the flak.  The aircraft was fatally wounded by the 5th Battery of the 191st Artillery Regiment located in La Jardinerie just to the west of St. Joseph.  The control panel was shot away by a light flak burst that also severely wounded the Radio Operator Staff Sergeant Orlo Montgomery. 

The Navigator Second Lieutenant John H. Hendry was standing between the two pilot’s seats with the Montgomery behind him when the aircraft was hit.  Here is Hendry’s account “I was standing between the pilot and co-pilot, who were at the controls, and Staff Sergeant Montgomery was standing directly behind me facing aft.  As he fell he turned and wrapped his arms around my legs.  I assumed he was seriously injured by the amount of blood loss.  He passed into unconsciousness very soon after.  His position in the plane when I left was in the aisle in the forward end of the ship.” 

The first men to bail out were Technical Sergeant Alvin F. Vezina the crew chief and the co-pilot Edwards. They came down near the town of St. Joseph.  Edwards sprained his ankle while landing and both he and Vezina were captured and taken to the POW enclosure outside of Montebourg.  The next man out was Lieutenant Hendry, once again he gives his account “The paratrooper was up and going after a chute at the time I bailed out.  Whether he made it or not, I don’t know.  He was directly behind the bulkhead when I last saw him.”

This left the pilot Hitztaler and the two wounded men the paratrooper Stout and the critically wounded Montgomery.  Here is Hitztaler’s narrative account “one of the crew had been wounded, but I was the last to leave the aircraft, and at that time no one was left in the crew compartment.  All other members went out the rear door.  I did not have sufficient time left to check the rear area.  I hooked on my chest pack and went out the escape hatch.”

The reality was Stout and Montgomery were both alive in the back of the aircraft.  Montgomery was severely wounded and Stout was wounded in the legs. Hitztaler and Hendry would both work their way back to American lines after evading the Germans.

The aircraft crashed just northwest of Rouville, France with both men still aboard.  The crash occurred on Monsieur Lecoquierre’s land called Le Clos Neuf northeast of the village of Rocheville.  In the morning Monsieurs Pigol and Lemarotel recovered two bodies from the wreckage and buried them together 50 meters from the crash site.  Later that same day Monsieur Lefillatre searched the crash site and recovered Lieutenant Hendry’s cap with his name and ID which he later turned over to the American authorities.

Lieutenant Chris Heisler was first out and first down, the only thing he saw was a farmhouse about 200 yards distant.  He said “I had a soft landing, with my toes just touching the ground, as the chute had snagged a tree.  After cutting myself loose, I spent the day looking for the rest of my stick with no success.” 

He took a position overlooking a major road and tried to keep track of the vehicles and German troops passing by.  He tried to commander a German vehicle and describes the attempt here “I ambushed one German truck, not sure of the extent of the damage I’d inflicted.  The Germans in the back of the truck took exception to being fired upon and shot back!  I tossed a few grenades in their direction and decided discretion was the better part of valor. 

On 7 June, I decided that traveling by night would be the wisest course of action.  Using my compass I tried to follow the path of where I though the plane had gone.  While sleeping during the day my position was discovered by a lone member of the Wehrmacht whom I disposed of with my rifle.” 

Amazing enough Heisler got back to within visual distance of the American lines but never knew it.  On the third day he reached the village of Gourbesville less than two miles away from where his Battalion was encircled in what became to be known as Timmes Orchard.  He describes his capture “after locating what I thought was a safe hiding spot later in the day, I was discovered by a group of German soldiers”.  Heisler was stripped naked in the village square and then after dressing taken into a building an interrogated.

Radio Operator Emmet was captured and taken to the POW enclosure outside of Montebourg, then north to Cherbourg.  While in the Temporary POW Camp he spoke with Company F Sergeant Al Mazurkewitz and the crew Chief Vezina.[xv] Emmet and Sergeant Mazurkewitz both escaped from the Germans on 11 June during a strafing of their POW column.  Emmet later gave a report to Company F Captain Paul Smith about his experience on the aircraft.  Emmet was killed in action on 3 July 1944 in the attack on La Fauverie.

Private Stout’s remains were recovered along with Staff Sergeant Montgomery’s remains at the crash site.  He was first interred in the Ste. Mère-Eglise No. 2 American Cemetery, then re-interred in the Normandy American Cemetery Plot B Row 7 Grave 19.  Stout was a College Junior All-American before enlisting in the service, and was a starter on the 507th Spiders Basketball team in Alliance Nebraska.

Corporal Joe Romas managed to evade capture for three days as he wandered the hedgerow country of Normandy.  On the third day he joined up with 10 other paratroopers.  Shortly after their initial meeting, they were involved in a firefight where Romas was wounded. Romas was taken prisoner on 9 June.   Corporal Romas spent the remainder of the war in Stalag 4B Muhlberg.

Private Robert R. Taylor and Sergeant Carl Letson were each captured alone shortly after hitting the ground.  They were both taken to the POW enclosure outside of Montebourg, and then transferred to Cherbourg.  Taylor said “I heard a man towards the middle of the plane yell out that he was hit when we crossed of the French coast.  A few minutes later “Slim” Stout was wounded and slumped to a seat. 

Lieutenant Heisler unhooked and checked Stout out.  He laid Stout on the seats and returned his position by the door and hooked up to the static line.  I heard him shout ‘you can call me Chris, Snake, Heisler, whatever you want when we hit the ground.’  He then said let’s go and out he went”. 

Private First Class George Hitchcock and Private Bernard Ely were wounded and captured on 6 June and taken to the German Field Hospital outside of Orglandes.  Ely was shot twice, one in the leg and once across his back.  While transporting Ely on a stretcher, they had to stop and cut a hole in it to drain the large amount of blood lost by Ely. 

The German Hospital was a large Chateau just north of Orglandes, on whose grounds they had erected a wooden structure that would eventually house 153 American POWs.   Hitchcock was liberated on 16 June when the field hospital was taken by the advancing American forces and sent back to the states.  Ely was transferred to the main German Naval Hospital in Cherbourg on 15 June and liberated on 27 June.  

Private Ricardo Alvarez said “As we came over the coast one of the windows was hit by flak and exploded.  One of the troopers by me screamed “my eyes, I can’t see”.  Minutes later the order to jump was given and out the door I went.  After my chute opened I look up and saw that the plane was on fire.”

“After hitting the ground I shucked the chute, climbed into a hedgerow and was loading my weapon when a squad of Germans opened fire.  I was hit in the thigh and the hip.  When the Germans came over I thought they were going to bayonet me as I lay there.  I was shocked when a German officer, in flawless English asked me ‘where are you hurt soldier?’  I then showed the Officer where I was wounded and offered him the contents of my pockets.  They were filled with cigarettes and other items, and I hoped it would keep the Germans from killing me.”

“The officer whistled for an ambulance that was going down the road to come over.  I was placed aboard and within minutes arrived at the German Field Hospital (Orglandes).  I was placed on a straw mattress and awaited medical aid.  Before sunrise more wounded Americans arrived.  In the morning we were taken outside and put in order by the severity of our wounds.  I was moved to the front because the blood from my leg wounds had saturated the area around my stomach.  When the Doctor opened my jump suit and saw I wasn’t gut shot, he had me put in the back of the triage line.”

“I repeatedly vomited from the pain.  A German soldier finally helped me to my feet so I could vomit away from my bedding.  Later that morning I saw a truck load of POWs go by.  I was transferred a week later to the Naval Hospital in Cherbourg, as the POWs were separated by those who were ambulatory and those who were not.  Those who couldn’t walk on their own were taken to Cherbourg.”

“Near the end, German staff moved us to the basement as the area around the hospital was being shelled.  I was liberated from Cherbourg on 27 June, taken by ambulance back to the beach, then put on a LST for the trip back to England.   While in England, I received 5 surgeries on my damaged leg, and was then sent home to the states.”

Private First Class Blair Terryberry was the only trooper from his stick that wasn’t captured.  After landing he passed through a small village, avoiding a German soldier who was walking through the village.  He later realized he was headed in the wrong direction.  Terryberry then retraced his steps, and while passing through the same village was spotted by the soldier.  He shot the man dead from his hip and continued on his way, rejoining his unit a few days later.22 Terryberry would be severely wounded during the Battle of the Bulge and sent home to the States.

Private First Class Robert Hurley and Privates John Hollman, Oliver Lindberg and Weldon Truett were captured and spent the remained of the war in POW camps in Germany.  The stories of their individual captures are not known.  Private First Class John Wagner was involved in a firefight with a few other troopers and was wounded in the shoulder and ankle and spent the rest of the war as a POW.

Private Cummings jumped in spite of the wounds he’d sustained from flack.  His body was recovered from an isolated grave late in June.  Cummings was buried on the battlefield with Corporal E. Quentin Siddall, a paratrooper from B Company of the 82nd Airborne’s 307th Engineers.  Siddall’s stick had been dropped between St. Sauveur-le-Vicomte and Etienville.  Cummings and Siddall were re-interred side by side in the Blosville Cemetery as they had been found on the battlefield. 

Sergeant Harry LaChance was killed in action on 6 June.  His body was recovered from the village of Hautville-Bocage outside of Orglandes.  The German Graves Registration Unit from the 91st LuftLanding Division sent a report via the Red Cross of his death and burial location.  What was especially interesting was the German Graves Registration unit returned Sgt. LaChance’s personal effects via the Red Cross.

Private John Ponder was wounded on 6 June and died soon after when the German Aid Station he was at was bombed by Allied aircraft.  Ponder’s body was found in an isolated grave the second week of July north of La Haye-du-Puits and was interred in the Blosville Cemetery on July 15, 1944.

Private Glenn Ball’s story is the last to be told.  Ball was captured after the jump and ended up in Cherbourg.  On 11 June, a large group of American POW’s departed via rail from Cherbourg.  This group was composed of a large number of 507th Company C and Company F men and Company B men of the 505th PIR, as well as a mix of 101st men mis-dropped in the Valonges/Montebourg area. 

When the train reached Bricquebec, they had to get off and march, as the tracks had been damaged by Allied bombing.  The column of approximately 150-200 men snaked its way down the roads of the central and western parts of the peninsula on their way to St. Lo.

Private Fist Class Joe Plis gave his account of the strafing, “While passing through the village of Besneville four American P-47’s came from the west.  One of the POW’s in the front of the column waved an orange recognition panel to the approaching aircraft.  The lead aircraft then waggled its wings signifying recognition, but then strafed the entire POW column.  We all tried to find cover along the road and in ditches.” 

Private Robert Taylor picks up the story “One of the troopers wounded during this strafing was my bunkmate from Alliance Private Glenn Ball.  He suffered three .50 caliber wounds, one in the head and two that angled down from his shoulder into his body.  His wounds were tended by me, John Hollman from his stick, as well as another Company F man Private First Class Joe Plis.  Hollman and Ball were best friends from the beginning.”

“We managed to finally get Ball’s bleeding stopped late in the evening of the 11th.  Ball was a large man who kept trying to get up during the night.  At one point, early the next morning in a brief moment that Ball was left unattended, he managed to briefly stand up which started the bleeding again.  He died a short time later from the wounds sustained the previous day.”

Plis takes up the story again, “during the night Ball kept asking who was going to take care of his wife and daughter.  It was Ball’s only concern.  For 61 years I lived with this memory. I was finally able to speak with Glenn Ball’s daughter Glenda. She was only two when her father was killed.”  Joe Plis was able to relay that her father’s last thoughts were only of his family. 

There were other 507th men involved in this strafing from this stick.  Carl Letson said that the only reason he survived the strafing was that Ball fell on top of him, and protected him from the bullets.  Some of the other 507th were Company C men Sergeant Jack Kestler, Privates First Class Kenneth Mershon and Clyde Inman.  Sergeant Kestler led the burial detail the next day.

According to Kestler, 19 men were killed outright, and 23 were wounded.  During the night, 4 more died of their wounds.  The 23 men were buried in the Churchyard at Besneville in a mass grave.  Their bodies were disinterred at the end of June by Graves Registration personnel and re-interred in the Blosville Cemetery on 30 June.  Four Company C men were killed in that strafing, Corporal Clement Sparks, Privates First Class Billie North, Fred Whiteford and Eugene Wilcox.  

There are several glaring omissions here.  They had a Navigator and were lost from their formation yet the navigator never mentions that he is trying to determine their position.  The next is the mention by both pilots of the river they had to drop before.  None of the other pilots mention having to drop before the river.  They were briefed the first river was a landmark.  Time and distance were used for the Neptune mission.  In this case neither time nor distance is mentioned by any of the aircrew.  They dropped the paratroopers three minutes early and six miles short.  If they had just waited three more minutes they were headed directly for the Drop Zone.

The greatest error had not yet occurred.  I contacted the former Mrs. Montgomery late in 2009 about the fate of her husband.  The Army had notified here that her husband had died in the crash of his plane.  However she did not believe this account as shortly after the war was over William Hitztaler the pilot of this plane had lunch with Mrs. Bernadine Montgomery.  She related the part conversation that concerned Orlo’s death.  She said that Hitztaler stated unequivocally that he had seen her husband leave the plane without his parachute. 

Why Hitztaler told her this fact will never be known.  Even if he didn’t realize Montgomery was lying behind him within a few feet severely wounded, Montgomery did not jump out of the plane without a chute.  This has to be one of the cruelest things ever a family has been told about their loved one.  Now that Orlo Montgomery’s family has been located DNA comparisons can be done.  It is now going on three years and the Army will not perform a DNA test on Orlo’s remains in the Normandy American Cemetery in France even knowing these facts.

Today a monument to the paratroopers and aircrew sits on the site of the crash.  This simple, yet elegant monument was put in place to remember the sacrifices that these men made in the liberation of France.  A yearly ceremony is held to commemorate the 6 June crash of stick #31.  61 years later Chris Heisler still returns to remember what was lost, and what eventually was gained, by the sacrifices made by these seven men of Chalk #31. 

                                                 Chapter 4

                  The Other Side

The plane following Hitztaler’s was Chalk 32 piloted by 1st Lieutenant John Thompson and 2nd Lieutenant Milton Cohen.  The Crew Chief was Technical Sergeant Joseph Smyth and the Radio Operator was Charles Fay.  This plane did not have a Navigator, as only the lead plane in each element was assigned one. 

Going into the cloudbank planes 31, 32 and 33 formed a triangle with 31 at the top and 32 of the bottom right and 33 on the bottom left.  Emerging from the cloudbank Thompson realized he was all alone.  While Chalk 31 piloted by Hitztaler dropped their men over 6 miles short of the DZ, Chalk 32 dropped their men 5 miles northeast of DZ T. 

They landed east of the town of Montebourg, 10 miles from the lead plane of their element.  Private First Class Joe Plis who is mentioned earlier being a part of the June 11th POW strafing in Besneville was a member of this stick.  Plis said “I thought it was more like a practice jump.  There was no shooting,  sound or light.  I made a perfect landing in a soft field.  Within a short time our stick had gotten together.  Now the only question was where we were.”

The jump master for the Plis stick was a new man to the Company F of the 507th 2nd Lieutenant Richard Shelly.  He had joined the Company during the spring of 1944 and was the 1st platoon’s assistant leader under Chris Heisler.  17 men jumped in this stick including the entire 1st squad.  The platoon Sergeant Ralph Speer went last in this stick. 

Going into Normandy every squad had a machine gunner and assistant and machine gun ammo bearer as well as a BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) man and BAR ammo bearer.  Joe Plis was the Machine Gunner, Private First Class John Olinik was Plis’ assistant and Private First Class Harvey Lewis was the machine gun ammo bearer.  Private Peter Lidika was the BAR man and Al Koser was his assistant. 

When dawn arrived on 6 June the group picked up two more men, Staff Sergeant Al Mazurkewitz 2nd Platoon Sergeant and 2nd Platoon Medic  Private First Class Ed Kohute.  They jumped from Chalk 34 in the same serial.  Squad Leader Sergeant Ted Peasland sent Private First Class William McKeever out on point as lead scouts.  A house was seen in the distance.  Lieutenant Shelly and Staff Sergeant Speer went to the house to ask for information.  A woman came out of the house and was speaking to the pair when a shot rang out and Speer fell dead, shot through the throat. 

The squad, except for McKeever the scout, had been behind Shelly and Speer when the shot rang out.  The next few moments saw the hedgerow opposite them come alive with small arms fire.  McKeever had been on the opposite side of the next hedgerow when the action started and was captured immediately.  The rest of the squad took what cover they could find. 

Plis gives his account of what happened next.  “After Sergeant Speer went down, the Germans opened up on us.  Olinik had jumped right behind me but I had not seen him since leaving the plane.  Since he carried the base of the machine gun I didn’t have one.  I held the machine gun in my hands and started firing back, but I couldn’t see who I was firing at.  The firing got heavier and I found cover behind a tree stump that had a slight depression behind it. 

All at once our BAR man Lidaka started yelling like a mad man and started running towards the Germans firing his weapon and was cut down right in front of us.  Harvey Lewis who was flat down in front of my position began to rise up and was stitched up his arm by machine gun fire.  I went to help Harvey when he saw me and said “Joe leave me here and save yourself”. 

All of a sudden the firing stopped and two of our men stepped forward towards the Germans after a few seconds with their hands up.  I watched them walk across the field waiting to see if they would be shot.  My mother didn’t raise a fool and I wasn’t about to get killed surrendering if I could help it. 

Seeing that the Germans took the men prisoner without incident the rest of us rose up and was taken prisoner where we stood.  I looked to my left and the men who had been next to me were gone, hopefully they got away.”         

The men of 1st Platoon stood where they had been fighting with their weapons on the ground.  Corporal Wilbur Jones the assistant squad leader had a grenade attached to his rifle that he hadn’t been able to fire.  One of the Germans picked up the weapon and turned it barrel down.  The grenade detached from the rifle and exploded on contact with the ground killing Jones and 2nd Lieutenant Shelly. 

A number of Germans were wounded as well and they sprayed the men with burp guns, wounding some.  At some point two of the men, Private First Class George Weldon the platoon medic and Private James Houston were able to avoid capture. 

And this is where the story paused back in 2009.  The odds are this is the end of line.


BN Siddall

July 1, 2020

 


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