Extensive memories.....
Soldier:
Sergeant Erminio Calderan
Date: 1942 - 1945
Location: Normandy, France, Veghel, Holland, Bastogne, Belgium
Unit: D Company, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division

I volunteered for the Parachute Infantry July 17th 1942. After Jump School I was assigned to the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment. I arrived at camp Toccoa, Georgia January 11th 1943. I was assigned to D Company, the commanding officer was Colonel Howard Johnson. The regiment was just formed and none of the men had basic training. I took basic training all over again. The regiment left Boston Massachusetts January 18th 1944 for England. We arrived in Newbury in Berkshire. Before the invasion we made four nights jumps as part of our training.

The 501st took off from the Merryfield Airport for Normandy. Our objective was the Locks at La Barquette. We were 20 feet over water crossing the channel so that the German radar would not pick us up. The many books written on the night drop into Normandy, all point out the breakup of the troop carrier formation. That I will say is true, but the low clouds at 600ft I don’t believe. I was jumpmaster and I had a clear view of the ground all the way to the drop zone. Over Normandy the Germans fired everything at us, the fire was so heavy that company lost one plane, all 18 men where killed. That was the only plane lost in the regiment and had to be from my platoon. I was the platoon sergeant, the platoon leader was in that plane. When the firing began the pilots panicked and dropped us all over Normandy. I landed in 2 feet of water, at 01:37 am, I was fortunate that the water was not deeper, 11 men drowned that night with all their heavy equipment they were unable to get out of their harness. We took our objective with men from different companies. The fighting was around St. Come du Mont and St. Mere Eglise.

ON D+3 (three days after D-day) we regrouped, 1st platoon had 13 men out of the 37. Carentan was our next objective. At the end of July the Division came back to England to prepare for the next mission.

September 17th 1944
A sunny Sunday afternoon as we got on board our plane which carried the name Invasion Virgin, a picture of a beautiful girl was painted on the side. Our destination was Veghel, in the Netherlands. Our objectives were 4 bridges and 2 roads. These bridges and roads were over the Willems Canal and the Aa River. I do not remember takeoff time but the arrival time was at 01:37 PM. Our lines were on the ground were marked by orange flags as we crossed into enemy held territory. As we flew over I was thinking of the heavy concentration of fire that we received in Normandy, here nothing. I soon woke up from two loud bangs from an 88. We were flying at 400 feet and a P38 dove through the formation to take out the gun. That anti-aircraft gun only fired two shots, the second hitting the left engine setting it on fire. The cabin quickly filled with smoke. We sounded off the equipment check, and everybody was okay.

The pilot did not panic and the plane stayed on course and dropped us on our designated area. He later climbed high, dove the plane to put out the fire out and made it back to England with only one engine. This same pilot, Lt. Ohm, was not so lucky when he flew the 17th Airborne to Germany. His plane was badly damaged, he was able to get rid of his load and landed in a field on his side. On the ground we quickly assembled and moved to our objective.

There was a German tank going as fast as he could trying to get out of the trap. A call for the bazooka team to come forward, the soldier carrying the bazooka started to run, then limp, then stop, only then did he realized that a piece of shrapnel from an 88 had cut the back of his leg. One-man took his chute off to find a piece of steel the size of my hand in his reserve chute. The chute saved his life. The regiment secured the bridges, set up a defensive perimeter and waited for the British armour to arrive. The first tank that came through our position at 11 o’clock on the morning of the 19th and that made me feel a lot better knowing that we had some heavy stuff behind us.

D Company was placed on reserve, I did not like to be on reserve, we were always moving from one side of town to another, and every time you moved you had to dig another foxhole. On one of these moves the company had taken a position on the side of the road. A Tiger tank was moving in front of us, going from one side to the other, the tank was moving to get a better shot at two tanks that were behind a farmhouse, and he did succeed in knocking them out. One of our cooks, was now a bazooka man and he was able to hit the thread of the tank and disable it. I lost on of my men in this engagement, the soldier was standing outside of his foxhole when he was hit by machine gun fire, he was carrying two British grenades which were hit by the bullets of the machine gun, there was not much left of him. The grenade was an elastic stocking that you could stuff as much compositions of C2 into it that you were able to throw. The top of the grenade has a plastic cap that you unscrew, inside was a piece of lead on one end and a small cloth with a pin on the other. In the air the lead weight would unravel the cloth and pulled a pin. The grenade would explode on contact.

In this same sector we received orders to expand our perimeter we advanced about 100 yards when the Germans drove us back, in coming back to our original positions we captured two prisoners, one of them spoke English, said that the only reason we advanced as far as we did they mistook us for their own. From Veghel the Division moved to relieve the British on the lower Rhine. D Company sector was at Heteren. It was there that Colonel Howard Johnson was killed while inspecting the troops along the dike. He was standing up and did not hear the Artillery shell coming. We stayed in this position until the end of November when the British took over the sector and we went back to France for a much needed rest and replacement.

We were stationed in Mourmelon, France it was there that was transferred to I company. Our stay in France was short. On the morning of the 18th we were loaded on trailer trucks and headed for Bastogne. We drove all day and part of the night and every truck in the convoy had their lights on, all the way to the front. That night I company bivouacked in an apple orchard, the following morning we were told to leave everything and move out.

We had replacements and some of them did not even have rifles or helmets, those men stayed behind. The rest moved out toward a town called Wardin to make contact with the enemy. We reached the town around noon. We came in from one end of the town and the Germans came in from the other end. We were a little ahead of them and we tried to set up a defensive perimeter, we were not too successful for they hit us with two Tiger Tanks. The were using their 88’s on anything that moved. I was out in the open when I saw the tank and had just enough time to duck behind a shed when the 88 struck the front.

Someone managed to get a bazooka and disable the lead tank, the second tank pulled back and returned with infantry. We had artillery support and no place to put it. I company slowed the German advance, and paid a heavy price. Between the dead, captured and wounded men we lost about half our company, 130 men including out Company Commander. Around 4 o’clock that afternoon it was every man for himself. It was just getting dark when I turned to look at a town the Germans had set every building on fire. I myself was wounded and taken to a field hospital, I was evacuated on the 20th on the last road open before the Germans encircled Bastogne. I was in the hospital for 30 days, when I came back to the regiment it was already back in France and the war was just about over.

At the end of the German conflict the regiment was deactivated and sent back to the States with High Point men. Men with length of service and medals were given points, those with the highest points went home first. I was reassigned to the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment and stayed with it until December 4th, 1945 when I became a civilian again.

Erminio Calderan
D Company 501st PIR
101st Airborne Division

Personal Photographs


Shoulderpatch of the 101st Airborne Division.


Erminio in his sergeant uniform.

 

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