BAILING OUT OVER FRANCE – RADIO OPERATOR OF A C-47 SKYTRAIN IS SHOT DOWN ON WHILE DROPPING PARATROOPERS ON D-DAY

By S/Sgt. John O’Conner

A NINTH AIR FORCE TROOP CARRIER BASE, ENGLAND—When the emergency “bail out” bell sounded, I went down the aisle and out of the door, shortly after the last paratrooper. It seems strange to me now that at a time of stress, I should remember everything that had been told me in case I should have to jump. I remembered to get out of the slip stream of the plane before pulling the rip cord, and to take off my helmet so the jerk of the ‘chute opening would not allow the chin strap to choke me.



The ‘chute did jerk me somewhat when it did open, but not very much. All the way down I saw streams of red and yellow fire from tracers crisscrossing below me. It didn’t seem possible that they could miss both me and my ‘chute, since mine was the only white one coming down. Somehow I made it and hit with a pretty bad bump right in a field full of cows, which probably saved my life. My ‘chute dragged me around the field before I could collapse it, but the cows made such an uproar no one could see me. I finally got out of my harness and away from the field after some of the cows had been killed by machine gun fire that I think was looking for me.

paratroopers c47 skytrain

C-47 Skytrains fly in formation on their way to Normandy.

I found a stream nearby and swam across in about the coldest water I ever felt. I came out in a field and lay down for a few minutes to rest. The tracer firing began again over my head, only this time they were trying to hit some of our paratroopers who were coming down all around me.

I saw a ‘chute hit about ten yards from me and called out the password. An American voice called back the right answer, but then nothing happened, so I crawled a little closer and again called the password. This time the paratrooper said he was caught in the harness straps. I crawled to him and found he was lying on his back so weighted down with his pack, weapons and grenades that he couldn’t get out of the ‘chute. I cut his straps and we crawled toward some voices coming from a piece of brush near us. They gave us the right password and we found a group of about a dozen paratroopers, all of them cussin the machinegun nest, which seemed to be on a little high ground about 200 yards away. The paratroopers decided they could get the machinegun if some of them kept it busy in front while a few went in from either side with grenades. They thought I had better stay back, since my only weapon was my .45 caliber pistol, but I said I would just as soon go along and make a little noise with the bunch that was going to keep the gunners occupied from the front.

I wasn’t being a hero. It was a lot more comfortable being with those paratroopers than wandering around France by myself. Three of the boys loaded themselves with grenades and went crawling away and in a couple minutes the rest of us started to walk ahead and the gun opened up on us right away, se we hit the grass and fired back as fast as we could. I let loose with my .45 and really enjoyed shooting in the general direction of the Germans at last. It was one hell of a racket between the machinegun and us, and then some of the paratroopers began to run forward in ones and twos. Bending way over, while the rest of us kept shooting. But when it came our turn to run I found my knee was so stiff from smacking the ground with my ‘chute that I couldn’t keep up. So the little guy I had stuck with said I should stay low and keep shooting and they would come back for me. I used up all my clips in about three minutes and then finally there were a couple of sharp booms up ahead and finally silence.



I tried to get up then but my knee was pretty bad, so I sat back in the bushes and waited, but it was morning before any one came by and then it was two medics who showed me where an aid station had been set up in an old barn. I never did see the paratroop boys again but I guess they got the machinegun nest because it was quiet up there next morning. I got to the aid station all right and had my knee fixed up by a medic who had about a dozen wounded paratroopers there already.

We were just breaking into our K-rations when we heard some yelling from the woods near our barn. In a few minutes a big party of Germans in gray uniforms came out of the woods in little groups of three and four and came over to the barn. They were mostly boys under 21 and looked in good shape. We weren’t too sure what was going to happen to us, but a big German sergeant walked over by our cots and patted his machinegun and said, “Wasser?”

We handed him our canteens and he took a big swig and handed them around to the rest of his squad.

It was too bad we had just broken out the rations because that was the next thing they saw and the food disappeared, too. But then the sergeant walked around and got one box back for each of us and smiled and said, “Chicago.” It turned out he had once lived in Forest Park, near Chicago.

One of the Krauts was a little blond who could speak some English. He sat on a box near me and went through a box of rations in nothing flat. He said he was 15 but had had a year in the Army and that his was a crack regiment rushed from Italy. He seemed to have the Hitler bug bad. Just then all hell broke loose out in the yard behind the barn where most of the Germans were standing around eating rations. Some Americans had caught them in a cross-fire from the woods. Several Germans fell in the farmyard and the rest moved into a patch of heavy woods the other side of the aid station.

All of us that could move got up and looked through the cracks in the stone walls and saw that the Germans were working a machinegun right behind our barn. I could hear the bullets whining off our walls. A kid next to me said he wished they would take this war a little farther away, and in a short while the firing did let down. Soon American paratroopers began drifting in to us from the woods. It was strange the way, as soon as the shooting started and the Germans began to fall in the farmyard, the little blond kid took off his ammunition belt and threw his gun down, and so did about four others who had been sitting in the room eating. So I guess he wasn’t as fond of fighting as he had been telling me because he didn’t try to escape with his buddies and was taken in tow by the paratroopers who were bringing in some of their own wounded by that time.



paratroopers

Brigadier General Anthony C. McAuliffe, artillery commander of the 101st Airborne Division, gives glider and C-47 pilots and crew last minute instructions before their assault on Normandy, France on D-Day plus 1.

The medics went right along working on whomever was brought in to them—Yanks or Dutchman—and they certainly had guts because we were stuck in the middle of the battle, as far as I could see, with bands of paratroopers chasing Germans through the woods on both sides of the barn. We had one more visit from the Germans. This time they sent in two Americans with one of their officers who had been shot in the leg. The paratroopers jumped this bunch, too, and firing started up in the woods. The two Americans dumped the German officer in the barnyard and took off for the woods on the other side and made it. I went out with another fellow who wasn’t hurt bad and carried in the German, who was a man about 25 and was really cussing in Dutch.

Next afternoon three of us took off for an assembly point we had heard about, but first we went Back to a manure pile and dug out carbines and ammunition and some grenades which the boys had buried when they first came in. We started towards what we thought was the CP, but an 88 started to lay some fire down in that general direction. There was some other activity going on in the area so we dug in that night and made contact with the CP the next day. It was here that the Krauts had accurately placed a mortar shell in a farmhouse where our boys had marshalled a hundred or so prisoners. After the explosion there were far fewer prisoners.

At 0200 that morning we were told to assemble and march to the rear for reassembly and rest. A burning farmhouse held us up for some time but rain soon put out the fire and we continued our march back through the woods, trails and roads until we reached our rendezvous at 0700. We got a little sleep here and then continued on until we reached the DCP at 1100. I left the grand bunch of boys there and worked my way to the beach rather peacefully. I spent that night on an LCI and listened to the Jerries come over with a few eggs from 0440-0445. We didn’t receive any hits—only a little rocking—but the boys on the top deck told me next morning we had lost two small craft.

Shortly after that I was transferred to an LCT and landed at an English port to make my way back to my base and Heaven.



For More On D-Day Check Out:

The Longest Day: The Classic Epic of D-Day


D-Day Illustrated Edition: June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II


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