When the other pilot and I cut ourselves free from the tow planes for the Normandy landing, we caught a burst of machine gun fire from the ground which missed my head by about a foot, and then stitched the right wing from end to end. The first bullet - I was flying copilot - just missed my head as we turned our plane to the left, and that why it didn't get us. If we'd gone another second farther (or a half second) it would have gotten us both right in the face and we'd have probably all gone down.
Germans had flooded our proposed landing area so we landed in 3 feet of water. I went out the side of the pilot section by tearing off the canvas and tumbling in the water after first removing my flak vest. One guy didn't have the presence of mind to take off his jacket and fell into a hole where the water was over his head. Luckily for him, the other glider pilot rescued him after a series of frantic dives. It was pretty funny, though, to watch this big tall pilot as he dived down, came up, shook the water out of his eyes, looked around, then dived again. He must have dived down about 3 times before he found his little copilot.
Upon landing, we discovered the source of the ground fire which nearly got me. It turned out to be a bunker containing about a dozen conscripted Polish soldiers with one German in charge. After the glider infantrymen from several gliders, including ours, directed a hail of rifle fire at the bunker, the resistance ceased. The there was silence in the bunker, and then a single shot. Then there were shouts and laughter, and the Poles emerged with their hands held high and surrendered. They weren't about to fight the Americans so they simply shot the Kraut sergeant.
We took refuge in a thatched roof farmhouse nearby to get ourselves organized and were surprised to find an American paratrooper in bed. He had jumped and had fallen through the thatched roof. He broke his leg. He simply had crawled into bed and was awaiting the outcome of the war. We left him there after awhile, but at the time, he was being aided by a young French lady and didn't seem to care whether the war continued or not. I hope he made it back home.
By nightfall, we were looking for somewhere safe to, maybe, catch a few winks. We came upon several Americans busily digging holes in one small field, so figuring out that misery loves company, several of us sunk our shovels at the edge of the field. "Hey, you guys can't dig in here." "Why?" we asked. "Because we're starting a temporary American cemetery here." That did it. We went elsewhere.
Following two days of confusion where there were no battle lines and the war was actually small engagements between groups of Americans and Germans, we glider pilots assembled and began a 3 mile hike which took us back to Utah Beach. Having drunk all the canteen water, I was thirsty by that time. I sighted a canvas bag of water being guarded - no kidding, this is the truth - by a Lieutenant Colonel from the Army. He gave me a half a can of water, and that included seaweed.
Once we were at the beach, glider pilots were given a job of herding German prisoners on to an LCI (Landing Craft, Infantry) ship, for the start of their trip to prison camp in England. From the LCIs they were put into larger LST boats for the short trip back across the English Channel. My own personal experience in this aspect of my duty had a strange beginning. After an American major turned over a group of Krauts for the boarding of the small craft, he asked us for our rifles. He overruled our protests by telling us that the rifles were where they were needed and there was no logical reason for us to take them back to the land of plenty, England. Also, because we were officers, we still had our trusty 45 revolver on our hip. It all made sense so we surrendered our rifles. It developed, however, that once we did get back to our home base in. England our supply officer couldn't see the wisdom of the whole thing and actually threatened to take action to make us pay for them. Luckily, our commander vetoed this idea.
Roy Samples and I were successful in getting our group of Germans onto the LCI and then in the LST for the trip back to England. The LST was anchored next to an American oil tanker which later attracted the attention of a German E-torpedo boat. The E-boat fired one torpedo into the tanker which exploded and sank almost immediately. One sailor with a dog who was on top of the mast as lookout were the sole survivors. The LST crew fished them out of the water. The E-boat's luck ended with the sinking, because at practically the same second as the American ship’s sinking, a British ground attack aircraft swooped down with rockets and machine gun fire and destroyed the German attacker. At the end, it was like watching a,newsreel as we observed the whole drama, from the deck of our LST.
One of our Kraut prisoners was an overaged German major who had been stationed in Normandy to recover from wounds received earlier on the Russian front. When we passed out the dreaded K-rations for a midnight meal, the major refused to eat. We asked an English speaking German corporal what he major's complaint was, and we were informed that the major was used to good meat and dairy products of Normandy and didn't appreciate our canned product. One of my friends told the corporal to inform the major that it was K-ration of nothing, and if he didn't eat that we might stuff them right down his throat, cans and all.
The LST was a mess. We had 1,200 German prisoners on the main tank deck and only 4 GI cans to serve as toilets. Among the 1,200 were several officers who were pretty well subdued, except for one Nazi storm trooper. This lieutenant insisted that every German prisoner passing by him give him the Nazi salute. One glider pilot finally tired of this and told the corporal to tell the lieutenant - without the preliminary Nazi salute - that if he, the Nazi, saluted one more time, he, the glider pilot, intended to emphasize his point with a bayonet on the end of his rifle. That was the end of the saluting.
I got fairly well acquainted with the prisoner that was a corporal after using him for 2 days as an interpreter. I discovered he was the son of a German father and a British mother. At the outbreak of war in 1939 when he was still a youngster, the family was visiting and got stuck in Germany. He was eventually drafted into the German Army. I believed his story enough to give him a ,note of appreciation to take along with him to his eventual prison camp in England. I hope he was able regain his English citizenship, because that's what he wanted.
A couple more incidents on the boat: The German commander of the E-boat was taken from the water suffering from a wound in his leg. I helped carry him to the operating table below deck where an American medic got ready to work on the wound. When the medic indicated that he wanted to cut apart the officer's prized sealskin pants, the latter raised all kinds of hell. It seemed he prized the pants above his well-being. "If he wants them that bad, let him keep them," the sympathetic medic said. So he pulled the pants off of that wounded leg. It must have been dreadfully painful, but the Kraut never uttered a sound. And that reminded me of another German who caught his ring on a nail while descending on a ship's ladder. The ring tore into his flesh so badly that the same medic had to take a surgical saw and remove the ring. He did it without painkiller, which, for some reason the German refused. Again, the pain must have been terrible, but again, no sound. Most German soldiers had guts, but so did a lot of Americans I knew during the war. Glider pilots and German prisoners made it back to England okay on my ship, and we were glad to be there, and I imagine the Germans were glad to be there too.
As I record this on April 4, 1988, this is what I remember from my experiences as a glider pilot on the invasion of France in June 1944.
Our general instructions were to get back to the coast as best we could and get on a ship for the return to England. We landed about a mile and a half from St. Mere Eglise, the scene for the movie "The Longest Day," wherein actor Red Buttons witnessed a day-long battle while swinging in his parachute from a church roof. I spent some time with some artillery guys manning a 105 cannon, and some time with a communications outfit of the Army. I saw a burning C-47 aircraft on the edge of the field where I landed. I could still make out the number on the tail and I knew it had been flown by a good buddy of mine. All aboard were killed, I heard later. I guess I was just lucky to get off so easy. A lot of other guys weren't so lucky.