This is my 17th ride in a C-47, but this time it's eerily silent here in the darkness. None of the joking, cajoling or singing that was part of our field practice and war maneuver jumps. This time WE'RE GOING TO WAR! Dude Stone is so uncharacteristically quiet, as are Gus Patruno and others of our jokers who could always be counted on for wise cracks and smart-aleck commentary on life as a paratrooper. And I sure don't feel like starting some singing as has come to be my role in the platoon.
The rhythmic beat of the motors is the only sound other than the occasional click of a cigarette lighter as another nervous trooper lights up. I do hear some low murmurs though as the long minutes and even an hour or two pass. Are some of the guys praying? Maybe I should be reciting the Scientific Statement of Being which always concluded. Sunday School sessions at our Christian Science Church. Under my breath I begin: "There is no life, truth, nor intelligence in matter, all is infinite mind and its infinite manifestation, for God is all in all..."
Suddenly there is a loud explosion and the bright flash of red and orange colors appears just outside the door of the plane, tracer bullets are also sweeping the sky next to us and our C-47 dives to start evasive maneuvers. The violent drop and jarring motions of the plane have us clinging to our metal bucket seats, and now there is no question of whether anyone is praying. More than one trooper is voicing "Hail Mary, full of grace..." The light from the German artillery and tracer bullets outside the plane door is steady bright now, and I'm sure our tail is on fire. Shrapnel striking the ship sounds like rocks rattling on a tin roof. My thoughts are a jumble of terror., but one surprising idea is dominant: 'Those people down on the ground are trying to kill me. Me. Bill True. Personally." And the possibility that they might succeed is becoming very apparent.
The red signal light above the cabin door finally comes on and Captain Mulvey shouts: "Stand up and hook up!" I'm thinking: "Oh yes, please, please, faster, faster." From both sides of the plane we lurch to our feet and meld into our jump order like a pack of shuffled cards. We snap our parachute static lines to the overhead cable and check the equipment of the man in front of us and give him an OKAY slap on the rear. The "Sound off for equipment check!" is an extremely hurried affair, but the few seconds seem an eternity before the green light appears and the captain shouts "Go!" as he leaps out the door. In spite of the excessive weight of our equipment and ammunition, our training for rapid exit, coupled with our violent dread, makes for a fast-moving jump.
As I exit the door the display of artillery fire and tracer bullets fills the entire sky. My chute opening is more violent than normal, but not unexpected in view of our great weight. I spot a fire on the ground and assume at first that it's the Pathfinders signal for our assembly point. It's not, and as I hit the ground much quicker than usual, I realize that we've jumped very low and probably far from our intended landing area.
It's a bright moonlit night, 1:20 AM, and I'm in the middle of a farm field next to a Normandy cow with big eyes, a welcome sight indeed. I mutter something to her as I scramble from my harness, and observe again the criss-crossing of tracer bullets up and down the lines of parachutes from following planes. I'm in Normandy and at war.
William Merit True