Raymond Geddes joined the
501st Parachute Infantry Regiment as one of the unit's original
recruits in December of 1942. He served with the regiment, as a
radio operator in G Company, until he was wounded on June 8, 1944,
at what is today known as "Dead Man's Corner".
About a week before D-Day they
moved us from the town of Lamborne, where we had been stationed
since arriving in England six months earlier, to Welford Airdrome,
where we would remain until the start of the invasion. At Welford
we were once again hooked up with the 435th Troop Carrier Group,
an outfit that we had worked with before, both in England and back
in North Carolina in 1943. We were confined in what they called
a "staging area" until the D-Day takeoff. The main thing
that I recall about our time in the staging area was that the chow
was excellent! Sometime after our arrival, probably about June 3rd,
we were taken into a large room and our mission was revealed to
us. Our battalion, the 3rd of the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment,
would not be jumping with the rest of the 501st . We would enter
Normandy with the Division Commander, General Maxwell Taylor, and
the division HQ group. As it turned out we were more than a reaction
force for General Taylor on D-Day morning - we would be in the very
front of his drive to meet the 4th Division coming off of Utah Beach
on Causeway #1.
On June 4th we were issued live
ammunition, grenades and the like, and as soon as we were all ready
to go they told us it had been postponed.
On June 5th we went through the same procedure and this time we
marched out to the tarmac to board the planes. One thing stands
out in my memory - our Regimental Commander, Colonel Howard R. (Jumpy)
Johnson, formed us up and made his famous "knife in the back
of the blackest German" speech that you can read about in the
history books. Then he did something else that I will never forget.
We walked past him and he shook the hand of every man in the battalion!
After the Colonel's speech we put all of our equipment on and were
helped into the C-47's by Air Corps guys. My platoon had been assigned
to the 77th Squadron, and one of my friends on the plane, S/Sgt.
Jack Urbank, actually knew the pilot, a Lt. Harrison, from previous
jumps he had made with the 77th. Like the others, I had a hell of
a time getting into the plane as I was loaded down with my two parachutes,
four or five grenades, a full cartridge belt of ammo, a SCR536 radio,
a M-1 Garand rifle in a Griswold bag, musette bag, canteen, gas
mask, first aid pouch, entrenching tool, bayonet, and heaven knows
what else. They also made us wear, in addition to GI shorts, long
underwear and OD's under the impregnated jump suit. Needless to
say it was very difficult to move! After we got seated the pilot
(Lt. Harrison) came out of the cockpit compartment and told us something
to the effect that he was going to give us a good flight. As we
were taking off it looked like the sun was just going down - and
it was 11:30 at night. Pictures of the take-off exist, but none
of the actual flight. Remember, it was night.
The flight over to France was
uneventful. It was dark and it took about two hours. I looked out
the window once and saw a red light down there somewhere. Then someone
said, "We are over land!" I looked out the door. It was
sort of moonlit haze. Shortly thereafter the red light came on and
the drill started - "Stand up! Hook up!" etc. Then the
plane started to bounce around in a manner which I had never experienced
before. We also began to hear explosions and what sounded like hail
hitting the plane. We heard a loud explosion at the same time as
a large flash of light. One of the planes in our group had gone
up in a giant explosion. Someone called out, "Look, those guys
are on fire!" I leaned over and looked out the left windows
and could see bits of flaming wreckage as the plane next to us also
began to go down. I saw tracers from anti-aircraft fire all over
the sky, and I realized that the "hail" hitting the plane
was flak. Along with others I began to yell to our jump master,
"Let's get the hell out of here!" - or words to that effect.
Then our plane went into a dive and we tried to keep from falling
down. The plane leveled out just above the ground. I don't remember
what happened next, but I learned later from Sgt, Don Castona, that
the pilot had passed on the message for our jumpmaster, Lt. Barker,
to come up to the front of the plane. During the time Barker was
in the cockpit Castona noticed that the plane had changed course.
I remember that we began climbing and, suddenly, the green light
Immediately the line started out the door and we jumped. We were
going fast and the opening shock was terrific! I remember seeing
a farmhouse below and then I was on the ground. My harness was so
tight I couldn't get myself free. Cows were all around me as I reached
for the knife attached to my boot. It was gone, pulled loose when
the chute opened. I finally got hold of my jump knife, which I had
stored in a pocket in my jacket, and destroyed government property
by cutting myself out of the harness. I stood up and checked my
radio operator's watch, which I noticed had stopped, from the opening
shock, at exactly 1:25 AM. (I still have the watch.)
I was very glad to see that I
had not lost my M-1 rifle, stored in its Griswold bag. I assembled
the rifle and moved off, trying to find someone. There was noise
coming from every direction, planes overhead and shooting on the
ground, but I was totally alone. Finally, in the moonlight, I saw
some helmets. I gave one click on the 101st recognition signal (a
toy cricket) and waited for the reply of two clicks. There was no
reply. I tried again. Still no answer. I was reaching for a grenade
when, thank God, I saw the shape of the helmets. I called out and
found that the soldiers were men from my company. They told me they
never heard the cricket. I found out later that we had landed in
the center of Drop Zone "C", exactly where we were supposed
to be (near Hiesville), one of the few units in the whole US Airborne
to make that statement. (Fifty five years later I learned that our
pilot, Lt. Harrison, had saved our lives by diving away from the
anti-aircraft fire that shot down the other two planes in our flight.
He flew past the DZ and then, after talking to Lt. Barker, he turned
180 degrees and dropped us in the middle of the DZ going the wrong
way. He deserved a medal, and he got it, but it took 60 years, and
that's another story.)
I have only a few memories of
events between the time I joined up with G Company and sunrise.
I remember how beautiful the German tracers looked as they flew
into the sky looking for targets. I watched a plane explode. I also
remember that I fell into a ditch and found it was full of dead
soldiers - I still don't know if they were Germans or Americans.
One thing I do remember is that at dawn, when I could see, I took
my trusty jump knife and dropped my trousers so I could cut off
those damn hot GI long johns.
While we were in the assembly
area my company commander, Captain Kraeger, told me to contact the
other platoons with my radio, but no one answered. Today I know
that the reason that I couldn't contact anyone, all the radio operators
were dead. Finally we moved out, towards Exit #1 from Utah beach.
I was on the left side of the road and Captain Kraeger was opposite
me on the right. I remember seeing General Taylor and another General,
who I now believe was Anthony McAuliffe, who became famous at Bastogne.
There were also a lot of high ranking staff officers wandering around.
The story goes that General Taylor said "never were so few
lead by so many".
We put out some scouts and began
moving down toward the beach, which was some distance away. As we
came around a turn in the road we ran into a German patrol and a
brief fire fight took place. All of the Germans were killed. We
kept moving and came to an intersection and more shooting started,
this time from a sniper. A major by the name of Legere, who had
been walking with us, was hit and fell in the center of the road
as the rest of us jumped into the ditch. A medic from out Company
named Eddie Hohl went to the major's assistance, and the sniper
shot him too. Hohl never made a sound, he just slumped over on the
major. I called out to him to see if he was OK, but he never answered.
To this day that incident makes me angry. Hohl was wearing a helmet
with red crosses on it and had another red cross on his sleeve.
I have spent the last 65 years hoping that the bastard that shot
Hohl was one of the Germans who we later killed. I believe that
a group of our guys went after the sniper, but I don't know if they
got him. I visited Normandy in 1996, and stood at the location where
Hohl was killed.
We started down the road one
more time and arrived in the town of Pouppeville, where there was
a fight with the German garrison. We lost some more men, including
one of the platoon leaders, Lt. Marks, who was leading the attack.
Captain Kreager was wounded, but stayed with the Company. At one
point during this fight I was again in a ditch and had several rounds
clip the top of the ditch only inches from my head - I quickly moved.
The Germans's gave up after we
had pushed them all into the house they were using as a headquarters,
and I was put to work placing German prisoners in a barn next to
the German HQ building. Many of the "Germans" weren't
Germans at all, we figured out that they were Polish soldiers who
had been drafted into the German army. Several of our G Company
guys could speak Polish and we learned a lot about local defenses
from the prisoners. We left the German bodies where they fell.
I was assigned to collect the
German weapons that seemed to be lying around everywhere. I was
just a kid, and I loved guns, so I decided to fire one of them at
some ornamental balls on the roof of the HQ building. As soon as
I squeezed the trigger I was in trouble. Everyone thought the single
shot was from a sniper! I had a very difficult time for the next
few minutes with all sorts of people yelling at me, especially our
After a time in Pouppeville I
remember that we saw American soldiers coming up the road. As far
as I am aware, of all the American units in Normandy, it was G Company
of the 501st PIR that was the first airborne unit to meet up with
the 4th Infantry Division coming off of the beach, and I was there.
That is my single claim to history.
Later that afternoon we moved
off with the rest of the 3rd Battalion to provide security for division
HQ at Hiesville. I remember during the walk seeing a paratrooper
lying face down next to the road with a bullet wound in the back
of his head. He was wearing brand new jump boots. After all these
years that picture is very clear in my mind. It's funny what you
remember, because the rest of D-Day for me is pretty much forgotten.
June 7th was not a lot of fighting
for us like it was for others. We were held in division reserve.
We heard noise going on all around us and felt the concussion of
bombs and artillery. At one point some German prisoners from the
6th Parachute Regiment were brought in and we all wanted to see
what our opposites looked like. I remember seeing Captain Kraeger
, who had been wounded in the left hand. He was on his way to the
aid station and told us to take care of ourselves. I never saw him
again as he was killed in Holland. He was a good officer.
Late in the afternoon, as we
were preparing more defensive positions, a Horsa glider crashed
near our position. Unlike the CG-4A, which is made of aluminum and
fabric, the big Horsa is made of plywood, which goes everywhere
when it crashes. Everyone in the glider was seriously injured. I
pulled a Thompson submachine gun out of the wreckage but threw it
away when I could not figure out how it worked.
June 8th turned out to be my
last day in combat in WWII and my last day with G/501. Our battalion
had been released from our assignment with 101st HQ and was part
of an attack towards St. Come-du-Mont. The attack started at dawn.
Later in the morning I received my first wound of the day, in the
leg, from an artillery shell. I also picked up a replacement for
my ruined watch. I took it from a dead German soldier who did not
need it. (I still have this watch also) We kept advancing towards
a major road intersection that today is called "Dead Man's
Corner". When we got there I was told the battalion commander's
radio operator had been wounded and I was sent to operate LTC Julian
Ewell's SCR300 radio. I was working with the Colonel in the backyard
of a house that we had captured. (At the time the house was being
used as a German aid-station - today it is a museum.) Colonel Ewell
had me calling in artillery fire on nearby German positions when
a round landed in the yard and I was struck in the left eye by a
piece of shrapnel. It felt like I had been slapped. There were no
American medics around, and the Germans had a big red cross on the
roof, so I went inside to see if I could get some help. A German
medic sat me down and looked at my eye. After a few seconds he said
"nicht kaput". He put some powder on the wound and left.
Then, to my amazement, someone started talking to me in English.
It was a German doctor from their 6th Parachute Regiment. I commented
on his excellent English and he said, "I should, I got my medical
degree in England". As he moved on to help his wounded German
soldiers I noticed that he had left his hat next to me. I walked
out with it and still have it today. Over the years I have tried
to find out the Doctor's name. I believe it to be Karl-Heinz Roos.
After leaving the German aid
station I was put into a jeep with other wounded and driven down
to Utah beach for evacuation to England. While we were waiting to
be put on a landing craft we were told that no weapons or ammunition
were allowed on the ships. I had hidden an American ten dollar bill
behind the butt plate of my rifle before we jumped on D-Day. I opened
the plate on the rifle and put the ten dollars in my wallet before
I was evacuated.
When I got to England they operated on my eye. The surgeon who did
the operation gave me the piece of metal he took out of the eye.
He said "I can send you back to duty or send you home. You
decide." I asked him if I could return to G Company and he
said, "Probably not". I thought they would put me somewhere
I did not want to be and told him I might as well go home. Several
weeks later I was on my way back to the US by airplane, in one of
the first groups of D-Day wounded to be sent home.
When I arrived at Mitchell Field, on Long Island, I was told that
I could take the weekend off and return to the hospital on Monday
morning. I used that ten dollar bill from the butt of my rifle to
buy a train ticket to Baltimore and be with my family.
Raymond Geddes, Jr (November
Testimony collected with the help of Jerry McLaughlin