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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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,
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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 man's
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
“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
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
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.
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
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
And this is where the
story paused back in 2009. The odds are this is the
end of the line.
July 1, 2020