Normandy, France, Veghel, Holland, Bastogne, Belgium
D Company, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne
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
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
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.
D Company 501st PIR
101st Airborne Division
Shoulderpatch of the 101st Airborne Division.
Erminio in his sergeant uniform.