Men of D-Day


    
 Troop Carrier
Michael N. Ingrisano
Robert E. Callahan
Benjamin F. Kendig
John R. Devitt
Arthur W. Hooper
Ward Smith
Julian A. Rice
Charles E. Skidmore
Sherfey T. Randolph
Louis R. Emerson Jr.
Leonard L. Baer
Robert D. Dopita
Harvey Cohen
Zane H. Graves
John J. Prince
Henry C. Hobbs
John C. Hanscom
Charles S. Cartwright
 
 82nd Airborne
Leslie Palmer Cruise Jr.
Marie-T Lavieille
Denise Lecourtois
Howard Huebner
Malcolm D. Brannen
Thomas W. Porcella
Ray T. Burchell
Robert C. Moss
Richard R. Hill
Edward W. Shimko
 
 101st Airborne
John Nasea, Jr
David 'Buck' Rogers
Marie madeleine Poisson
Roger Lecheminant
Dale Q. Gregory
George E. Willey
Raymond Geddes
 
 Utah Beach
Joseph S. Jones
Jim McKee
Eugene D. Shales
Milton Staley
 
 Omaha Beach
Melvin B. Farrell
James R. Argo
Carl E. Bombardier
Robert M. Leach
Joseph Alexander
James Branch
John Hooper
Anthony Leone
George A. Davison
James H. Jordan
Albert J. Berard
Jewel M. Vidito
H. Smith Shumway
Louis Occelli
John H. Kellers
Harley A. Reynolds
John C. Raaen
Wesley Ross
Richard J. Ford
William C. Smith
Ralph E. Gallant
James W. Gabaree
James W. Tucker
Robert Watson
Robert R. Chapman
Robert H. Searl
Leslie Dobinson
William H. Johnson
 
 Gold Beach
George F. Weightman
Norman W. Cohen
Walter Uden
 
 Juno Beach
Leonard Smith
 
 Sword Beach
Brian Guy
 
 6th Airborne
Roger Charbonneau
Frederick Glover
Jacques Courcy
Arlette Lechevalier
Charles S. Pearson
 
 U.S.A.A.F
Harvey Jacobs
William O. Gifford
 
Civils
Philippe Bauduin
Albert Lefevre
René Etrillard
Suzanne Lesueur
 

 

Harvey Cohen
1st Lieutenant - Pilot - 32nd Troop Carrier Squadron - 314th Troop Carrier Group

I think all the men felt as I did as we drew lots. We wanted to go and yet we didn't. Our squadron was furnishing only six planes for this first mission to France and only six crews would participate in what was referred to as history's greatest military undertaking. To be in the spearhead of this invasion would be an experience to remember all of one's life, yet the personal danger was frightening, a danger all of us who had been in the Sicilian invasion knew was real and great. Therefore, when our flight won the draw, I felt a shiver of excitement mix with the nervous chills running down my spine. I was in it !

That afternoon my co-pilot, 2nd Lt. Donald L. Van Reken, of 262 N. 8th Street, Paterson, New Jersey, and I, met the jumpmaster of my plane as he was drop-testing his bundles. It wasn't encouraging to learn that we were to carry demolitions in the parapacks attached to the belly of our plane.... 600 pounds of TNT. I tried to find out from the paratroopers where we were going, but they said we would learn at the briefing that evening.
As we walked into the briefing room, there was an undercurrent of nervous chatter throughout the room as the crews looked at the large map and observed the course. Could that be our DZ ? We had guessed wrong....thought it would be Calais ! How long would we be over land ? How much Ack-Ack did they have ? Will we drop at night or during the day ? How long would the flight be ? A thousand and one questions were flying around the room. The briefing answered them all.

First we were introduced to the Commanding Officer of the American Airborne troops and he explained his Battalion's particular mission and then the general strategy for the invasion armies. Two great armies were to strike at France and the men we were to carry were to spearhead the attack. We were amazed at the immensity of our own part in the invasion ! Troop Carrier planes would be dropping airborne troops for five whole hours !
Then the briefing continued....about how we were to form, the navigational aids along our course, the weather forecast for the route, the disposition of enemy troops and their anti-aircraft defenses, the alternate airports for use in emergency, ditching procedure, methods of escape and evasion in case we were shot down, and even the clothing and equipment we should carry. Nothing was left to chance as we filed out of the briefing room.

We were all ready to go, but because of weather conditions, the mission was postponed for 24 hours. All of us congregated in the Officers Club to discuss this latest development. Generally we felt let down. The boys made wisecracks that « Heinrich » had not enough time to prepare for our coming and that was the reason for the postponement. Yet, despite the apparent jolly attitude taken by the men, we all felt worried because of the delay. What if the news leaked out ? These thoughts pervaded the atmosphere all the next day until the time came when we reported to our planes. This time we were going !

The troopers in our plane were relaxing in the cabin as we boarded the plane. They asked me how high they would be dropped from, the speed the plane would be flying, and how many planes would be behind us. I tried to reassure them by telling them I would slow the plane to 100 MPH, and that no planes would be directly behind us so they had no worries on that score. I went over the ditching procedure again and wished them « Godspeed », and told them I'd treat them as a drink in Paris.
I made a final check with my crew-chief, T/Sgt. Blake E. Craig of Eltkon, Michigan, and the Radio Operator, Sgt. Robert M. Freeman of Bellaire, Ohio. I put on my parachute harness and Mae West and took my place in the pilot's seat. Then we started our engines and followed our lead plane to the takeoff position. It is hard to describe the feelings I had as I taxied my plane past our operations and jerked my thumb up to the boys standing there.

Within a few minutes we were gathering speed as we moved down the runway and then we were airborne and moving into position on the right wing of our element. After circling while we formed, we started on our course. Sixty pllanes in two spirals, carrying 950 men to France.
It was easy flying as we followed the course marked by plainly visible beacons....like a highway across the face of England. We left the land and started across the channel towards France. At this point I went back and put on my flak suit. Below us we saw the first ship, and I felt once more the greatness of this combined operation. At this point we also saw the first planes returning from France. They appeared scattered and I became apprehensive. They must have met a great deal of Ack-Ack.

Soon we were turning towards land on the last leg before the run-in to the DZ. I sent my crew-chief to the rear of the plane to give a 20 minute warning to the paratroopers. Then I adjusted my flak helmet. At this time we noticed the Island of Guernsey on my right...our first glimps of enemy territory. I felt a hard knot in my stomach, similar to the feeling one has before the opening kickoff in a football game. I closed in tightly on my lead plane, observing that a bank of clouds lay over the Cherbourg Peninsula where we would cross the coast. Glancing at my instruments panel, I checked all instruments carefully, remarking to my co-pilot that we would have to lose 1200 feet before reaching the DZ, to get down to the drop altitude of 700 feet. Soon we were over the coast heading toward the cloud layer and some scattered fire coming up from the right. Then our flight plunged into the clouds and I was pressed to follow my element leader who made a diving turn to the right.

The next few minutes seemed to fly. My element leader and I had become separated from the main formation and I was chasing him through the clouds. We had given our troopers the warning red light, when I sighted a large amber « T » identifying the DZ about ½ mile to our left. The lead plane must have seen it because he turned toward it and within a few seconds was dropping his troops. I chopped the throttles and gave the troopers the « Go » signal. Then I followed him as he dove down to the « deck » and headed toward the coast. He was turning wildly to evade machine-gun fire coming up from both sides. Following him, I was caught in the crossfire, and though I kicked and turned the plane violently, I was caught in it for what seemed to be an hour. I felt the ship get hit and smelled smoke and yelled to the crew-chief to check the damage and to the co-pilot to check the instruments. By this time we were over the water and heading toward England. I stayed on the water for some time along the route paralleling the land, especially when we watched strong flak and machine-gun fire coming from what should have been Cherbourg.

Within a few minutes we started climbing to 3000 feet and I turned the plane over to the co-pilot in order to check the damage. We had received a 20mm burst just behind the cargo door and the rear cago sectionhad been perforated....approximately thirty bullet holes. This had been the crew-chief's station at the time of the drop, but luckily Craig had just moved forward. Returning to the cockpit I noticed several other groups heading towards France and then passed to large glider trains. Again I was impressed with the large part the Troop Carrier Command was playing in the invasion.
During the tript home I felt depressed....The usual reaction which sets in after the battle excitement. I felt fatigue throughout my body. We were still « sweating out » serious damage to the rudder and elevator and had to remain on the alert, but the tenseness of most of the flight had passed. Soon we were safely on the ground, being questioned by excited ground crews and being interrogated by our intelligence Officer, amidst a bedlam of noise as everyone tried to shout his experience.

The next night we were ready to go again, this time on a resupply mission, carrying ammunition, fuel, food and water to the troops that had been dropped on the previous night. Again we went through a complete briefing, learning that we would go in over land from the direction we had left it early this morning. Also we learned that his would be a daylight drop. We were not worried since we felt certain that the High Command would not allow unarmed, and unarmored C-47's to fly over enemy territory in broad daylight without a certain degree of safety. Therefore a general feeling of confidence prevalled as we went to our planes early in the morning.
On this mission I again had 2nd Lt. Van Reken as Co-Pilot, but this time I had T/Sgt. Raymond J. Layfield of Birmingham, Alabama as crew-chief and Sgt. Charles Shloser of Brooklyn, New York as my radio operator. We were carrying six bundles of parapacks and six more bundles in the rear of the plane.

We took off at 0320 and climbed through a low layer of clouds to 1500 feet at which altitude we started to form. We could see other formations taking off from adjacent fields and as we circled, the sky was filling with transports. Soon we were moving out on course, climbing to top another layer of weather. We had been on course about 30 minutes when the formation hit solid instrument weather. It was impossible to see my lead plane though I was flying close to his wing, so I advanced my power and started to climb, hoping to break through the « stuff » and re-form. I climbed to 7500 feet without breaking out and at this time I started to pick up icing on my wings. Since I did not have de-icing boots, I made a gradual descent to 3000 feet, at which altitude I found a hole in the clouds and dove through to 500 feet above the ground. I was directly above an airfield which I circled for ten minutes trying to learn by radio where we were. Hoever, I was unable to get any answer. I could hear quite a few planes calling in for information.
At this time we saw a large formation flying in a southeasterly direction. Believing that they could lead us to France, we tagged on to the formation and, flying close to the ground, we soon reached the coast. Another large formation had approached from the east and was flying a parallel course to our left. In our formation were quite a few stray planes which, as we had, joined the larger formation in order to complete the mission.

Once again we were over the channel heading toward what appeared to be a peaceful France. 1st Lt. Carl H. Weniger of Plainfield, New Jersey, pilot of another plane in our squadron, had come up on my right wing, so I knew there were at least two of us heading for our DZ.
We could see the Naval vessels standing off the beachead, but everything appeared deathly still. As we flew over some of the ships, I looked for men but did not notice any. The only reassuring sight was to see our fighter coverswooping over our heads singly, in pairs, and in fours. Lightenings, Thunderbolts, Mustangs, Spitfires, Hurricanes, and Typhoons formed a solid umbrella over our heads.

Then we were heading over land and I left the other formation and headed toward our own DZ. We crossed the Valognes-Carentan road, the railroad to Cherbourg, and the Merderet River. All this time we were passing over fields showing that a great airborne armada had landed there. Horsa and Waco gliders were in twos and threes all over the area beneath us. Most of them seemed to be wrecked in some form or the other...the Horsas were split in two. I remembered that the tail had to be blown off these gliders to enable jeeps to be removed. Parachutes littered the fields, orange, green, red, and white spots on the ground. Yet, the strange thing to me was that I did not notice any persons moving...no trucks, jeeps, or tanks. It seemed unreal. A great invasion had taken place, yet the grazing cattle were the sole possessors of the fields.

To our right, Lt. Van Reken saw the hospital at Picueville, and we realized that we were too far south, so I made a sharp turn to the right and headed northeast. Since we could see three flares burning to our north but could not make out what they were. Since we could not see a « T », or the violet smoke which was supposed to mark the DZ, we headed for one large field in which there were many parachutes and which seemed to be where the DZ would be located....Lt. Van Reken gave the green « go » signal and the crew-chief and radio-operator started pushing out the bundles while we delivered the parapacks from the cockpit. While we were over this area machine-gun fire from both sides was passing over and around the ship. Luckily we were not hit, and diving toward the deck we headed for the Channel and home. Once more I remarked at the deathlike stiliness of the land, especially as we passed over the deserted pill-boxes, machine-gun emplacements, and trenches facing the water.
We were over the water following the group which had preceded us in to the DZ when Sgt. Shloser called out that a C-47 was ditching. I turned around and flew over the plane, but Lt. Weniger had reached him first and dropped life-rafts to him. The crew was getting into the rafts, so I once more headed for home. On the way we passed several C-47's with one prop feathered, but in each case other planes were staying close to them. Again we passed large glider trains carrying equipment to the troops on the peninsula.
Soon the coast of England was in sight and we were heading back to our home base,

Harvey Cohen     (June 1944)