Hunker Down

Published: Thursday, June 6, 2013 at 09:19 AM.

            It was sometime past midnight. Pitch dark. The only sound was the droning of the C-47 cargo planes……and the pounding of the collective hearts. The “cargo” on this cold, damp night was paratroopers of the 82nd and 101st U. S. Airborne Divisions. If you add the parachute weight in, each jumper was leaving that plane with over 100 pounds of gear strapped to him. The most important of which, not counting the chute, was the M-1 Garand Rifle.         

I’m guessing here, but from all accounts I have read, the average age of these men was nineteen and a half. Ken Russell thought of his high school classmates on the flight across the English Channel. They were graduating that very June 6, 1944, night back in Tennessee!

            The plan was to have the planes level off at 600 feet and slow to 90 miles per hour. The low altitude would expose the men to less German fire on their decent. The speed would lessen the shock as they stepped out into the night air. The flak from the enemies’ 88 mm guns began to tear into the slow moving, unarmed planes. The pilots took evasive action, sped back up and altered their altitudes. Many of the C-47s were taking direct hits. So much for the plan…..

            Planes were thrown off course. Drop zones in the confusion became almost impossible to discern. Still, there was a mission to be accomplished. It was time to take the offensive in the European campaign. I can’t imagine the feeling when the door pealed open, the green light flashed. Most, if not all, had never heard of the Cherbourg Peninsula or Normandy until just a few weeks earlier….but duty called and they stepped unflinchingly into the abyss. 

            They were the first liberators to set foot on French soil.  

            These young American paratroopers were the vanguard of a much bigger picture. As they fell into the hedgerows, cow pastures and flooded fields of Northern France a hundred thousand of their compatriots were steaming across the channel towards an early dawn destiny at Utah, Omaha Beach and Pointe du Hoc.

            The Germans knew we were coming. They didn’t know when or where. But they had been preparing for an Allied invasion since overrunning France in 1940. The shear expanse of coastline along the channel made it impossible to defend every inch to the fullest. Hitler’s plan was to place reserves strategically away from the coast, a few miles inland, that would be rushed to the front immediately as reinforcements the moment the exact landing spots became obvious. 

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