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
 

 

Major Benjamin F. Kendig.
Pilot - 44th Troop Carrier Squadron, 316th Troop Carrier Group.

It was common knowledge that our Group was transferred from Sicily to England to participate in the invasion of the European continent. Even the German radio announced our arrival and welcomed us to the UK. Of course, they also promised that we would all be shipped home in wooden boxes.

My name is Ben Kendig and I was the commander of the 44th Troop Carrier Squadron of the 316th Troop Carrier Group. At the time of the Normandy Invasion (D-Day) we had been overseas for about a year and a half. Our group participated in the Sicilian landings with two night paratroop drops. The second drop was met by heavy fire (mostly so called friendly). Our group lost 12 airplanes out of 36. Even though it didn't show on the surface, we were all somewhat apprehensive about the invasion plans that we all knew were in our future.

After arriving in England, we soon adapted to our new country and in some ways because of the many similarities we almost felt as though we had gone home. Our days and nights were filled with flying supply missions in England and Scotland and many night formation training flights. One of the night formation flights ended in tragedy with two of our planes colliding in mid-air. The lead plane, that had the Group Commander as an observer, was hit by a plane of the following element at a turn around a beacon. All personnel on both planes were killed. The group commander, Col. Burton Fleet, had been my squadron commander prior to his transfer to group headquarters. This accident naturally effected us all. There was deep sorrow for the loss of our friends and also the heightened awareness that the night formation flying, required for the invasion, could be even more dangerous.

One day we received visitors. They were members of the 82nd Airborne who set up camp on our field at Cottesmore. There was no doubt now that we would be participating in the invasion! We would be taking them on a one way trip to some undisclosed location someplace on the continent. We certainly did not envy their position. Their camp was isolated and we didn't get to talk with them until just before they boarded our planes. The less any one individual knew about the whole operation, the better the chance to keep the secret from the enemy.

Because I was a squadron commander, I was briefed on the operation sometime before the rest of the squadron. I don't remember the exact sequence of the activities prior to the invasion. We did go to a nearby airfield to listen to a talk and receive a send off by General Eisenhower. Then came the postponement of the mission for a day due to the weather. I breathed a sigh of relief but realized it only meant another day of anxiety!

Prior to the invasion and in addition to the many practice night formations, we had gas drills and night vision training. For the gas drill, we had to don our masks and walk through smoke filled tents. The night vision training consisted of wearing dark-tinted red goggles (in a darkened gym) and playing catch with a large white ball. We also trained to identify aircraft and read text that was faintly projected on the wall of a darkened room. On the mission, we wore impregnated coveralls, carried gasmasks and wore tin helmets. We certainly did not look like aircrew members.

I can't explain the feeling but on every mission I was relieved when we started the engines and were ready to go. Then the anxiety left me and it was all down to business. We formed up on the perimeter strip with our loads of paratroopers and para-bundles. The 44th Sq. was in the lead with the Deputy Group Commander Col. Washburn in our lead plane. I was number ten, leading the second element of nine planes of the 44th Sq. The group had four squadrons. Each of the squadrons put up 18 aircraft. In spite of the large number of aircraft, the take off and form up were uneventful. We then proceeded, on course, to our point of departure from the coast of England.

We crossed the channel with no problems; flying at about 2000 feet above the water. As we approached the coast of Normandy, we found a cloud formation had formed just below our altitude. My first thought was that the Germans had spread poison gas in the area. The cloud formation appeared to lay in rows and looked to me as though it might have been spread by airplanes. I quickly realized that my imagination was working overtime! The clouds were a natural formation and could have resulted from the planes that were ahead of us flying through nearly saturated air, causing it to condense into clouds.

As we neared the drop zone, I was faced with an important decision! Was it better to drop down and fly through the clouds and risk having the formation break up with the possibility of mid air collisions or to stay above and drop the paratroopers at an altitude that would cause them to become widely separated? We soon picked up the radar signal from the pathfinders! At about five miles distance from the drop zone, the cloud layer ended and I could clearly see the lights set up by the pathfinders. I immediately closed the throttles and started to descend. I quickly realized that I had better use some power, for my formation was overtaking my plane. By the time we reached the drop zone we were a little above the 500 ft. altitude and a little faster than the desired speed for dropping the troops. However, it was, in my judgment, best to drop at this time rather than to circle and take the chance of colliding with the following formation.

After dropping the troops we flew as low as possible and soon crossed the coast. I don't know if I dreamed this or not, but as we crossed the coast I thought that I could see trenches and soldiers. I don't remember seeing much ground fire. Compared to the second night over Sicily this was a "milk run". The remainder of the trip back to our base was uneventful. We all felt quite relieved to learn that there were few casualties. I believe that our group lost no airplanes that night.

Several explanations are in order. The pathfinders were a group of troop carrier crews and paratroopers highly trained in navigation with the latest radar equipment. Prior to our drops they located the drop zones and set up lights and radar for our guidance to the drop zones. Our lead planes were equipped with Rebecca-Eureka radar that had a scope in the instrument panel giving direction and distance to the pathfinder's signal. Another explanation concerns our night formation flying. Each plane had three purple hooded lights on each wing and three on top of the fuselage. They were only visible from the rear quarter and were adequate so long as the formation was fairly tight. The exhaust pipes had flame arresters to avoid being seen from the ground and presenting a target.

This account is only as accurate as my memory. I certainly did not make up this account. I believe it to be fairly true to the actual events. It was a night that many of us will never forget!

My crew for this mission NEPTUNE BIGOT are as follows:
Co-Pilot 1st.Lt. Karol F. Rybos
Navigator 1st.Lt. Donald W. Ertel
Crew Chief T/Sgt. Donald M. Ashling
Radio Op. S/Sgt. James R. Taylor

Benjamin Kendig     (September 24, 2002)