Jack, why don’t you tell us your story about going into Normandy before going up to the bridge?
You’ve seen the pictures of us in preparation and Jake had suggested after reading books about the First World War and lice and we decided… he, rather, decided that the less hair we got, the less lice we’re going to have so everybody started getting an Iroquois. They said, well, what the heck did you use? I said, well, well we all got a first aid pack with a razor in it, you know. I don’t recall too much. That’s a long, long time ago but anyhow, that was our preparation and when the 82nd went into Italy, our Navy shot down quite a few of our own planes so at this time they put recognition stripes on the planes and around the wings and around the fuselage.
They asked me the story that came out about the Filthy Thirteen having red paint and all on us. We had no red paint. We just used the black and white paint right off the wet paint on the plane. He started making Indian signs all over us here and there, you know. That was our preparation besides all the training we had.
They normally think a flight just goes up and goes right over, you know but you go up, form your echelons and your wing groups and what not and a lot of these pilots were new and when we flew in they caught on to all kinds of black and fire down below and this was new to those fellows but they just dumped us out.
They dumped us out of our plane over St. Come-du-Mont and a whole battalion of Germans. But what had happened in the process of making the approach, flak or something came up through the floor and busted Billy Green’s chute open so it just billowed all over the place and we pushed him to the side to get out. Everyone that was dumped out in front of us was dumped right on St. Come-du-Mont and Mr. Cone here is an example of what happened to them. They all got killed or captured. We lost Lieutenant Mellen then. I met some other fellow and he was whimpering and crying terrible and I said “if you don’t stop all that damn noise, I’ll shoot your ass right here” and I meant it because he’s going to get about 10 guys killed, you know.
Well he didn’t want no part of me so he took off and next man I met was Mike Marquez. They told us that these irrigation ditches were 12 feet wide and 2 feet deep. Well, it was just the opposite. Mike stepped in one and he’s gone, you know so I yanked him out by his rifle. What they had to do was put the rifle in the Griswold bag and get out of their Mae West and their chute and open the zipper and get the M1, put it together in 3 pieces and load it before they could shoot back at the enemy.
I was a junior in the NRA then and I knew a little bit about shooting and I wanted no part of this so I managed to get a hold of an O3(?) and that means I got one in the chamber with no safety on, the firing pin locked so I could slip the safety and shoot back but when I hit the ground, the muzzle hit the ground and the stock went up and knocked my shoulder out. It went back in but it was painful. Anyhow, I gave Mike my rifle and the next fellow we met was Clarence Ware and I don’t know, the other fellow was Porter. Later, we met Jake but the first thing we had done was blow up the power lines between Carentan and Cherbourg and then we found a manhole with a telephone cable and we blew that up.
Our objective was to take the bridges over the Douve River from Carentan to the beaches. This particular bridge was a wooden bridge but a big strong wooden bridge that tanks and all could go over, you know. The other bridge, further up the river was what they called a walking bridge but it wasn’t, it was a dogcart bridge because in those days the farmers took their milk to town in dogcarts, you know, just like you see pictures from the Netherlands and all.
Anyhow, we managed to get down there but on the way down, we all got hit and I’ve always kind of resented… we had a medic come and help. Our objective was that under no circumstances to get in no firefight or anything but take those bridges. If we didn’t take those bridges and that Panzer unit got over there, we’d have had another damn Dunkirk on our hands, you know.
These are mobile tanks. They can walk and move anywhere and most of the rest of the artillery on the German side are stationed in one place, you know. Once those destroyers found them, they knew where to knock them out but if you had armoured units there, they could relocate themselves and keep shooting, you know, so I always thought out objective was so important that our own planes didn’t know we were separated for about 4 days.
Nobody knew where we were and we had no contact but 3rd Battalion, which we jumped with. We had taken our objective, so next thing we knew, here come our own planes in, bombing us right on our bridge. They killed about 6 more men but we finally blew that bridge up. Just a few years back, Jake and I managed to get back to that bridge. I had been there before but I couldn’t get on the American side because of the swamps and the irrigation ditches. We came in from the other side and that was where the Germans were with foliage. They had something to cover them but when we stuck our head up it was like a turkey shoot.
There was nothing behind us but our own planes and we were under observation the whole time so for years I wondered why Jake didn’t help me and Mike. We blew the roadbed up. We gathered all the Hawkins mines and blew the roadbed up so we could dig through to the other side because we had no medics. We knew someone was over there but had no contact with them. For years, I never realised we had mortars come in and Jake was half blind at that time because one hit and the whole side of his face was hit with gravel and whatnot.
Those are the kind of things that come back in later years when you start thinking about it, you know. Anyhow, that was our objective and that was the objective we took in Normandy. Only four men left to do the job.