My name is Charles E. Skidmore, Jr., better known as Chuck Skidmore. I am an American who was born on January 17, 1920, in Columbus, Kansas, a small town in Cherokee County, Kansas, just across the line from Joplin, Missouri. Following my graduation with a journalism major from Kansas University at Lawrence, Kansas, in June 1941, I enlisted in July 1941 in the aviation cadet program. I completed 60 days of primary training on Ryan Aircraft at King City, California and went on to basic training on Vultee Trainers at Moffett Field near San Jose, California. I was eliminated from the flying program there in the fall of '41 due to so called "flying deficiency." I returned home, and finally in July 1942 enlisted in the glider program as a Class-A glider pilot, because I already had a private pilot's license. Only a limited number with no previous flying experience were accepted for a few weeks during early 1942.
I took my dead stick training at Pittsburgh, Kansas, 16 miles from where I was born in Columbus, Kansas. Dead stick training means: flying up, cutting the power off and gliding back to earth.
I took my basic training in gliders in Vanita, Oklahoma, 90 miles from home, and my advanced training on the large CG-4A Waco Glider at South Plains Army Flying School at Lubbock, Texas where I received my glider wings in April 1943 and became a Flight (Warrant) Officer. I took my combat glider training in North Carolina in late 1943. I went overseas by ship on the U.S.S. George Washington to England with the 91st Troop Carrier Squadron of the 439th Troop Carrier Group in February 1944.
We were assigned to Balderton Airdrome near Newark, England, in the Midlands, until a month or so before the invasion, when we were moved to Taunton, near the southern coast, for the actual invasion of Normandy.
June 1, 1944. It was time to invade Hitler's fortress Europa. We could feel the tension in the air. Then came June 3 and we were herded into a block of barracks behind barbed wire. Uncle Sam wasn't about to let any of his invasion party troops wander off downtown and give away any secrets that we might have had. And that's not to say that a single one of us knew our exact destination along the coast of France. Only Ike knew the landing spots and he didn't disclose them until sealed orders were brought to commander and flight planners 24 hours in advance. The briefings for the aerial invasion of Utah Beach, our particular designation, were serious matters, but not without a little pressure-relieving levity upon occasion. Our 439th Troop Carrier Chaplain, Father Whalen, had probably heard about all the profanity known to mankind because he was a prison chaplain at Joliet, Illinois prior to volunteering for the service. So he wasn't shocked at one of the briefings to hear some profanity which included the Lord's name. Upon looking around his listeners, the briefer stopped to apologize to the good Father. "Don't worry about what I think," said Father, "worry about what the Lord thinks."
One of the briefers was our own 91st Troop Carrier Squadron's captain named Merriman. As I listened to him, I recalled that he was a former school teacher but quite a roughneck when he wanted to be. I remembered that the time when he took a carbine to the shower in North Carolina to see if its charge would penetrate the wall of wood and galvanized steel. It did. It went clear thought, crossed half the barracks, lodged in a four by four of hard timber. I remember hoping that the American armament would be that good on the beach. The conclusion of the captain's briefing went something like this: "Glider pilots will release when the pilot of the C-47 leading the formation starts a gradual turn to the left to return to the coast. If any C-47 pilots cuts his glider off during an invasion without sufficient reason, and there shouldn't be any, he'd better keep on going because if he comes back here, I'll be waiting for him." And I’ll add that I never heard of any tow pilot needlessly cutting his glider off during several invasions on the European continent.
Speaking of C-47s, those work horses of World War II, they were actually underpowered for many of the jobs they were called upon to do, including pulling heavily weighted gliders. One of our C-47s carried a radio crewman who must have weighed nearly 300 pounds. Nobody knew his exact weight. But he was heavy enough to upset the trim of the C-47 as he walked to the rear. His pilot, a Captain Anderson, joked to a buddy that he intended to tie the sergeant to the seat at the radio because he didn't want to worry about keeping his plane trimmed straight and level during the assault on D-Day. My group briefing was somber right up until the final moment. "Sir," asked the glider pilot, "what do we do after we land our gliders?" There was a brief period of silence, after which the briefing officer, a non-flying person, admitted, "I don't know. I guess we never really thought of that." Perhaps it was true. I thought then and there amid a lot of laughter, that maybe glider pilots really were originally meant to be expendable in war. The best answer to the question came from a glider pilot sitting next to me. He said, "Run like hell."
D-Day arrived for glider pilots in England. Breakfast was at 4:00 in the morning featuring honest to goodness fried eggs and a huge piece of chocolate cake. I suspected that the cook believed that he was cooking a last meal for us, and that the food glider pilots liked most was fried eggs and cake. Where he got the fresh eggs, I'll never know. We hadn't had any in the previous 4 months we'd been in England. "The condemned ate the hearty meal," chirped on wag.
When I arrived at our glider ready for the trip to Normandy, the other pilot and I carried our parachutes onto the glider between two rows of airborne infantrymen who were already seated on either side of the glider. We put our parachutes in the seats, actually, because the seats were built low on purpose to accommodate a seat pack and still allow tall pilots room for their head. About that time, a burly airborne paratrooper lieutenant stuck his head in between us two pilots and said, "There's no use in you two fastening those 'chutes. We'd never let you use them anyway." I thought that was putting it plainly, so I didn't even bother to drape the straps over my shoulders. You didn't argue with a airborne infantry officer.
One C-47 pilot in our squadron was quite a comic. It happened he was a copilot on a goonie-bird that pulled me into France on D-Day. All we had for communication between the airplane and the glider was a telephone wire stretched along the tow rope. As we flew along the east side of the Normandy peninsula, waiting the right hand turn into the Utah Beach landing area, I noticed numerous splashes in the water below us. Anderson, "I asked on my phone, "what's making all those splashes?" "Those are P-51s dropping their tip tanks." "Anderson," I replied, "you're a damn liar. There aren't that many tip tanks in the whole Army Air Force." The splashes must have been German shells falling in the water.
Two good glider pilot buddies in my squadron were Johnny Bennett and Charlie Balfour, the latter now deceased. Those two were as close as friends could be, but they were forever arguing about one thing or another. One bone of contention concerned whether or not glider pilots would ever be committed to combat in Europe. Charlie said yes and Johnny said no, right up until ,D-Day. They asked to make the Normandy invasion together, and flipped a coin to see which would fly as pilot and which as copilot. Bennett won the toss, and, along with a string of hundreds of gliders, they crossed the English Channel, flew inland over Utah Beach, and then Bennett released his glider from the tow and started his descent from 900 feet. They glided silently for a few seconds, and then Balfour broke the silence with these words: "Johnny, they'll never fly gliders in combat." For several seconds, there was hilarious laughter between the pair, despite the hail of bullets that started coming up from the Germans below. The airborne troops sitting at the rear must have thought the two were slightly nutty. Luckily, all of them got on the ground unscathed.