George Eugene Willey
2nd Plat. - D Co - 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment - 101st Airborne Division
I graduated from high school
in 1939. I took a job on a golf course and lived on the golf course
until about November of 1940. Then I went to my aunt's house in
Dayton, Ohio to enlist in the Air Corps, where my brother was already
in. Because of my flat feet and going to Virginia for the assignment
... the vacancy ... they thought they'd tum me down physically at
Langley Field and send me back to Dayton. Instead, my uncle got
me a job in an aircraft plant. I worked there until September of
1942. I tried to enlist in the submarines in the spring of '42,
but they wouldn't take me (because of his feet). In September of'42
I was up for the draft, so I enlisted in the Air Corps thinking
I would go to mechanic school because I was working as an engine
tear-down man. I went to Ft. Benjamin Harrison for induction into
the Army because the Air Corps was part of the Army, and they sent
me to Bowman Field, Kentucky. I didn't know what assignment I'd
have. But in about three days they assigned me to the air force
base in Blythe, California which was brand new ... newly constructed
air base. And they only had a small cadre there of about five or
six guys, and the fifty of us from the east ... only two of us from
the Midwest, the rest were from the New York area ... out of Bowman
Field ... we went to Blythe Field, California.
While I was there I saw on the
wall that I could get a job as a special services officer and form
a basketball team at the base, so I went out and saw him and interviewed
and got the job of organizing the base athletic teams, for basketball.
I had my own team out of Headquarters Group. By then we had built
up to about 250 guys, and I had our team and I was organizing a
Navy base and a town team from Blythe. By then the 2nd Air Force
had moved into Blythe, so they had a team. So, I had some teams
organized and we started our league. My team only played one game
until we got orders to split us up. The 250 of us split up and opened
three bases up in California ... at Rice, California and Desert
City, California and Coachella, California, which was just south
of Indio. When I was at the base I was just on assignment until
they got me on the crash crew, and I was the asbestos man on the
crash crew, which meant that I had to go and rescue the pilot out
of these P-51 Mustangs that we had at this base. Then, whenever
a tire blew on an airplane or anything like that, then we rushed
to the scene to make sure a fire didn't start.
We only had one serious accident, a plane that burned up.
I put in for a transfer after
about six months to the parachute troops and I was there at the
air base for 13 months until I got the transfer to the parachute
troops. The parachute troops were at Ft. Benning. To qualify for
the parachute troops you needed to have five jumps. One of them
was a night jump, and four day jumps, and I completed that training.
Before that I completed the other three stages, which were the jump
towers and physical training.
I made my qualifying jump, and
after the qualifying jump we were sent to Ft. Mead, Maryland. After
three months at Ft. Mead taking special training for combat, I was
sent to Belfast, Ireland as a paratrooper, but not assigned to a
division yet. While I was at Belfast we were sent down to Newbury,
England and I was assigned to the 501 Regiment down there, and became
a mortar man with that regiment. We took training jumps in England
while I was there, one of them a night jump, and two day jumps with
equipment on to prepare us for combat. The night before D-Day the
planes took off, on June 5th, 1944, and went to jump in Normandy.
On the jump as I went out the door I watched the planes in flight
around me, and two planes were going down in flames that had already
dropped their troops, and two more planes were going down in flames
that hadn't dropped their troops yet. Our plane made a successful drop, but
we landed in the swamp in Normandy. A friend of mine took the air
out of my parachute and flattened my parachute so I could get up
and walk. There was quite a ground wind that night. When we went
out the door it was 1:32 in the morning. By the time I got to a
house with this other paratrooper ... after he deflated my parachute
... we stayed in the yard at this house in Normandy until an officer
came and asked for volunteers for a 50 man patrol to go seize the
locks, which was one of our main objectives. The reason that we
wanted to seize the locks was because if the locks were closed and
the Germans opened it, we thought they could flood the area. But
they had already opened the locks and flooded the area before we
got there. After we'd taken aerial photographs that showed that
it was just solid fields with cows in it, by the time we had jumped
on June 6th, in the morning, it was flooded.
I landed in water about to my
knees and then in trying to get off the drop zone, they had trenches
dug up through the field. In these trenches they had wire fencing,
barbed wire fencing, and they had flooded water over the top of it.
We'd get caught in them and either had to go over them or under
them to get off the drop zone. After I got to this house and volunteered
for this patrol ... by the time we left the house it was about 10:00
or 10:30 in the morning and we started for the locks, which were
about three miles from this town of Basse Addeville. As we neared
the locks we came under intense artillery fire from the Germans
on a hill. Of course, it was daylight then and they could see the
They knew what our objective was, so they threw a lot of 88 shells
at us. While I was in this field I told I had a mortar with me,
and I told these two guys carrying the shells ... mortar shells
and my assistant gunner in the patrol ... not the 46 other guys
but the four of us working with the mortar ... the canal going into
the locks, we decided to jump down behind the bank ofthis canal,
and we jumped right in front of a German machine gun. The other
46 guys in the field could hear the gun but they didn't know what
it was firing at. It wasn't firing at them but was firing down the
canal at us. As the gun was firing, the man on my left and the man
on the right went down with bullets. The assistant gunner and I
got around a small bend in the canal and saved ourselves from the
gun, but the gun kept firing anyway up this canal to keep us from
coming back at them. In the meantime, the other 46 guys in the field
were wondering what the gun was firing at.
Evidently, the German machine gun didn't have a field of fire across
the field but did have a field of fire up this canal. Evidently,
they left their gun and went up the canal and carried the two bodies
By this time the 46 men had left
15 men on the locks, and 31 of them came back to us where we were
hidden out around the bend in this canal. We didn't know whether
they were American or German troops when we heard their voices until
they got closer. We thought we were going to get captured until
they were our own troops. The officer in charge coming with these
31 guys told us to go back to the Colonel's C.P., Colonel Johnson,
the Regimental Commander. I dug a fox hole near his C.P. as part
of his protection. We spent the afternoon of D-Day capturing the
troops that were being driven back from the beaches. We probably
captured 150 of them that afternoon, or 200, but they were hiding
out in the brushes in the swamp to avoid us and try to get through
us later when dark hit. But we probably captured 150 or 200 of them
and put them in a barn. And then the Germans, because they weren't
part of the fighting German Army, they were put in this barn and
Germans with an 88 gun started shelling this barn. They didn't even
care about their own troops.
Did any of the shells hit
I don't know because it was about a half mile away from where I
was dug in. That night a friend of mine came by that I had gone
to jump school with, Bob Styles, from Minnesota. He was going on
patrol that night, and after he talked to me a few minutes he started
out on patrol. I heard an explosion and I found out later that he
had got killed with a loose hand grenade. The next morning we were
still guarding the Colonel's C.P. and the Germans on this hill near
Carentan started firing at us, at the C.P. The Colonel asked us
to relieve the fire from the C.P. by going out in the swamp, so
we did. While we were out in the swamp the Germans were practically
running us across the swamp with these 88 shells. We were avoiding
them until we got out of range in the swamp. We organized with other paratroopers and then we went for the next
two or three days, we left the swamp ... stayed all night in the
swamp on D-Day plus one ... and then the next three days we went
back to near where Division Headquarters were to get ready for our
That was the attack of Carentan.
On D-Day plus six, the 12th of June, 501 and the other two regiments,
502 and 506, and the 327 gliders that had landed, went to capture
Carentan, the largest city in the peninsula. We captured Carentan
on D-Day plus 12 and then we pushed out of Carentan for the next
20 days or more. We held positions on outpost. I was on outpost
with about 12 other guys. We stayed in that until our duty in Normandy
was over, and then we returned to England.
When you were waiting for
D-Day, how long had you been preparing? Did you know when D-Day
was going to happen? How long were you in England before D-Day?
The 101st went over in November and December of '43. I was still
down at Ft. Benning, then at the base in Ft. Mead, Maryland. I was
at the base in Ft. Mead, Maryland through Christmas up until January,
then was sent to Belfast, Ireland. It was about the first week of
February when we joined the 501 as part of the 101st Airborne. Actually,
the 101st Airborne was made up of just one glider regiment and one
parachute regiment, but they needed additional men, so they decided
to pick up another parachute regiment, the 506.
After they got the 506 they decided they needed more men so they
attached the 501. The 506 became a permanent part of the 101, but
the 501 was attached for combat operations only. So when the war
ended in 1945 they decided that they would cut down the strength
of the 101st, so they deactivated the 501 and assigned us to other
regiments of the 101st .
They took the replacements that had come over in the late part ofthe
war and used them in the march on Berlin, and also to get them trained
up for the war in Japan. Actually, after the war in Europe was over
we thought we were going to end up fighting in Japan. We did have
to do some additional training for that even though the war was
over, which we resented quite a bit.
Because we thought we were experienced enough (laughs).
Did you want to go to Japan?
Of course, the war wasn't over even though the war in Europe was
over. A lot of paratroopers were anxious to get at the Japanese
as part of our combat strength. Actually, it would have been a very
difficult job to do any parachuting into Japan because of the terrain
and because of the Japanese reinforcing all the beaches there. It
would have been hard to go in by beach or hard to jump in there.
The Air Force did enough damage, especially with the atom bomb,
to convince the Japanese to surrender. It made our trip there unnecessary,
so they decided to discharge us.
When you were waiting for
D-Day, everybody was pretty anxious, I imagine, about what to expect?
Oh sure, sure. We made the training jumps in England, one of them
at night. We knew that when we jumped in Europe it could be day
or night. It worked out that they thought it would be better if
we jumped at night at Normandy to keep the casualties down.
Actually, they predicted that as much as 80% of the airborne paratroopers
and glider troops to get killed on that mission. Buy actually it
came down to maybe 30% that were casualties on Normandy, of the
men that parachuted in.
That's still a lot of men.
What were your thoughts on
hearing that 80% were going to get killed, wounded or captured?
Well, they didn't tell us that. They just warned us that possibly
the Germans might consider us spies because we jumped behind the
lines, even though we were in uniform. They could kill us as spies.
I was convinced that it would be better not to surrender, that after
I jumped in Normandy to put up all the resistance I could and not
get captured. But after they captured some of us, then we found
out they weren't killing people who jumped behind their lines. We
didn't have fear of being captured then. Of course, in the three
battles, I don't know how many airborne troops were prisoners, but
quite a few of us were captured. That was my military stint in World
War II and Korea.
In Normandy, what company
were you in?
I was in Dog Company, D Company, which was one of the companies
of the 2nd Battalion of the 501st.
How many guys in D Company?
There were about 140 guys to a company, about 450 guys to a Battalion.
How marry men in the stick
when you jumped?
In training down in Ft. Benning we usually put 24 guys to a plane.
We would jump 12 out on one pass of the airfield. In combat, they
lined up about 18 or 19 guys in a C-47 so they could all clear the
jump door. We cleared the ship in about nine seconds. 18 men could
jump out of that ship in nine seconds. Throw the equipment out the
door first and then jump behind it. We had packs underneath the
plane and we would drop them with parachutes on them so that we
could recover them on our drop zone.
Ammunition and stuff?
Yeah, ammunition, medical supplies and food, of course. That happened
D Company, my platoon, was dispersed because of the drop. Only after
four days did I see the rest of my company. I was in the marshes
and so forth with other personnel from other regiments. It was at
least three to four days before we got together as a Battalion.
Men coming in from the beaches were taking over combat areas then
and freeing up paratroopers and glider men. The regular army then
took over a lot of the missions from us. We were able to assemble
and get our guys together then. We got ready to go back to England.
We didn't think we would end up 35 days in Normandy, but we did.
We were there about 35 days.
On D-Day, you saw planes go
down. Was there a lot of anti-aircraft fire around your plane? Could
you feel the shells hitting by your plane?
Every town that the aircraft flew across in France had anti-aircraft
fire because they were getting heavily bombed by English bombers
and American bombers, so they had a lot of these anti-aircraft guns
set up in these towns. Our American Air Corps was bombing these
cities out ahead of our mission. After our mission we had the support
of fighter aircraft that were carrying lighter bombs and destroying
trains and so forth, to keep the enemy from reaching us.
How long of a flight from
England to Normandy?
We took off around 9:00 at night and flew around England for awhile
and assembled. Like I said, my jump ship reached Normandy at 1:32
in the morning at our drop zone.
We had flown over maybe 50 miles of Normandy from the English Channel.
Actually, we jumped only about seven miles behind the beaches when
we parachuted in. So, we flew over some area of France and then
into Normandy. We flew directly over, near, Cherbourg and then St.
Mere Eglise where the 82nd Airborne jumped. The drop zone I jumped
in was quite near the locks, which was one of our main objectives
besides seizing the causeways-these roads that were coming in from
the beach. We were to keep the German defense from coming into the
beach heads. Of course, we didn't cover all of them, so they did
get a lot of resistance. They had coastal guns set up to stop the
Navy, battleships and so forth, that wanted to come in on any invasion.
Were you trying to stop reinforcement
troops from coming in or trying to capture the troops from the beach
Both, we knew that eventually other German troops would come in
from other parts of France to Normandy to protect it from us. We
were fighting in both directions, actually, and that's why we went
to Carentan. There were a lot of German troops around Carentan that
could do a lot of damage in the rest of the peninsula.
Was there a Panzer Division
Oh, yes. They had all kinds of infantry divisions and tank divisions
and so forth along there. Of course, the Germans didn't expect us
to invade in Normandy; they thought we would invade the area closer
to England that Normandy was. They kept their main force up opposite
England, in France and Belgium, and had a lighter force in Normandy,
which made Eisenhower's decision to go in the invasion to Normandy
instead of the other areas.
There were four invasion beaches: the British Army and British Airborne
were to occupy Sword and Juno beaches. We were to occupy Utah and
Omaha beaches. The invasion force was about 50,000 troops, if I
remember the number right. With the 82nd and 101st there were about
8 or 9,000 paratroopers, and 327 gliders.
Going back to the plane flight
over the sea, you were all probably scared about what was going
Well, it was so uncomfortable in our parachutes, we were sitting
there bent over, that people who looked in our plane thought the
paratroopers were bent over praying, because we were bent over with
our parachute straps. Actually, we were uncomfortable sitting in
the planes-we were glad to get out and jump. The same way in training.
When you go up to make a parachute jump your straps are fastened
so tight to keep you from getting hurt that you are pretty uncomfortable
in the plane.
Didn't you tell me that you
were drug under the water when you landed?
Yeah, the ground wind inflated my chute and I was going through
the water nose first.
My buddy grabbed the canopy and collapsed it so that I could get
on my feet. I was probably dragged 20 feet through the water before
I could get on my feet.
What about the story of the
guy whose chute didn't open?
Well, my buddy and I were leaving the drop zone ... of course, all
the troops that were killed were underneath the water except for
the high ground that was in the marsh ... On that high ground ...
we didn't see any other troops, he and I, at that time ... We looked
over and saw this high ground, and we walked over to it because
I needed a weapon. I was jumping the 03 rifle with a rifle grenade
pack, which was anti-tank, anti-vehicle. I volunteered for that
although I was the number one mortar man. But when my equipment
went under the water, then I did the next best thing: I grabbed
a mortar and took that with me on the patrol to the locks. That's
the one that the Germans probably picked up after they fired on
On the high ground you found
I found a body and felt down into his tunic, his blouse, for his
dog tags, and pulled the chain up to see who it was. I could make
it out because there was quite a bit of flame and so forth in the
buildings around the drop zone. We were lighted up there, but I
couldn't read the dog tags because I couldn't get them out of his
blouse. Just then we looked across our drop zone and on the other
side of the drop zone there was a German machine gun firing across
our drop zone. So he and I decided there might be some other guns
open up, so we better get out of there. He and I found some higher
ground, an orchard.
We walked through the orchard a little ways and then found this
town of Basse Addeville, which had about seven or eight houses on
it. I don't remember if there were any stores there, but there was
a group of houses there, and the Germans occupied some of those
houses, but they soon were captured by troops coming out of the
swamps. We were alright until we left on patrol. When we took that
50 man patrol out there were probably 150 troops there at Basse
Addeville besides us that went on patrol. The Germans came in there
and drove them out from another town, St. Come du Mont. The German
troops came back from St. Come du Mont and seized this town of Basse
Addeville. Our Chaplain, Father Sam, was in this house with a lot
of our wounded troops by then and they captured him and the wounded
troops, and drove the other troops out of the town that they didn't
capture. Later on, we recaptured the town back, and they released
Father Sam to go back to the American troops then.
You were telling me about
a man whose pick got caught up in his parachute?
That was the guy that was on the drop zone, on the high ground.
What happened was that he had a pick strapped to his leg; the pick
was in a canvas holder that was strapped to his leg. When he went
out in the prop blast, the strap broke because the planes were flying
quite fast. The pick flew up in the air on his harness and caught
his parachute. It came out and wrapped around that pick just like
a handkerchief. His parachute was laying there wrapped around that
pick. Never had a chance to open. We were jumping ... when I cleared
the door and looked around in the air and saw the four planes going
down ... right away I ducked my head and oscillated through the
air from the parachute. I swung up in the air about 20 feet, right
up even almost with the canopy and then swung back. On swinging
back I hit the ground, so I probably jumped closer to 400 feet,
and I was at the top of the stick. The guys at the lower end of the
stick jumped from lower altitude than we did, because the pilot
was supposed to throw the tail of the plane up so that the parachutes
wouldn't hang up on the plane if their parachute opened in the prop
blast too fast. That's what happened in Normandy.
A lot of guys in Normandy
probably broke their legs if they jumped from less than 400 feet?
My commanding officer of my platoon, D Company, my company commander,
broke both his legs. When I hit the ground and got into an assembly
area, I found out he was gone. I assumed he had been killed or captured.
I didn't know he had broken both his legs and they had got him off
the drop zone. People coming in from the beach head, he was taken
back to England right away. When I saw him in Grand Rapids, Michigan
in 1983, he told me he had broken both legs. I never knew that in
WWII. I didn't know what had happened to him. I didn't know he had
broken both legs. Nobody seemed to know. All we knew was that he
was gone. He became a major by the time he was discharged after
being in the hospital about two years. The executive officer of
the company took over as company commander for the rest of the mission.
Why did you want to get out
of the mortars?
Because I wanted to be up on the front further. I pulled outpost
at Normandy, even though it was probably the most dangerous place
to be, because the Germans would hit the outpost first. I still
thought that I could get warning enough to get back to my own line,
where we had the firepower. From the outpost we would know enough
right away to escape. We had avenues of escape mapped out in case
the Germans attacked us. We knew how to get back to our main lines
under as much cover as we could.
You didn't have the mortar
on outpost, did you?
No, that's why I went on outpost, because we didn't have enough
men to have a mortar platoon. After Normandy, after we got hit so
bad in the 2nd Platoon, in Normandy ... we had only 15 guys left,
so we made them all riflemen. We didn't have a mortar squad then
Only 15 guys left?
Only 15 guys left out of our platoon of 42 men.
After D-Day itself?
Yeah. Scoop Hamel that was here said that we only had eight, but
I thought we had a few more than that.
15 out of 42 in your platoon?
Yeah, all the rest were either killed, wounded or captured. In Normandy,
it just so happened that 2nd Platoon got hit the worst.
How many rounds of the 03
did you carry, or were they in an equipment bundle?
I probably had six rounds on my body, maybe only four. The mortar
gunner would jump out the door ... each round weighed three pounds,
2.97 is a mortar round ... I probably had four of the mortar shells
on me. In the case of the rifle grenade launcher I probably had
several more. Maybe as many as eight or ten I would launch from
my 03 rifle.
In Normandy you got rid of
your anti-tank gun and grabbed a riflle?
My anti-tank rifle went underneath the water and I couldn't find
it. When I got to the farmhouse someone brought a mortar in there.
So I grabbed the mortar; it wasn't mine it was someone else's. I
grabbed that mortar and went on patrol, so that I could protect
the locks with that mortar. Any troops coming up on us on the locks,
I could drop a lot ... I had these two guys carrying mortar shells
with me. They were probably carrying about eight shells, that would
be 24 pounds apiece.
In the group of 50, you had
the only mortar?
Oh, yeah. The other guys were carrying M-l rifles and carbines.
We probably only took one machine gun on the patrol and one mortar
with us. We wanted to be able to defend Basse-Addeville from German
attack. The Germans attacked sometime between the time I left Basse-Addeville
and got to the locks, and seized the locks, and then went to the
Colonel's C.P., which was near the locks. In the meantime the Germans
attacked that town and captured that house, and tried to capture
as many American troops as they could there. But a lot of them probably
got out of town before the Germans could capture them. Of course,
the wounded who had been brought to that town, in Basse Addeville,
the Germans took them with them. When they left Basse-Addeville,
and they had to leave Basse-Addeville because we attacked back through
there, they took the prisoners with them. They took the wounded
Dad, what was the story about
the guy who was shot by a sniper and you carried him to the aid
station? Was that in Holland or Normandy?
That was in Normandy, out of Carentan. Kenny Witt and I volunteered
to take some machine gun ammo up front. Troops that were attacking
out of Carentan. We had already been through Carentan. I didn't
have a mortar because I lost it. I was kind of a rifle man, then.
So I volunteered to take some machine gun ammo up, or I was probably
old to (laughs). And Kenny Witt, my little buddy. Kenny was about
three steps ahead of me when we went through this field. We didn't
know that the Germans were in trees near that field. They looked
over there and saw us with that machine gun ammo. So they fired
at us. Just the minute the bullets came flying around me, I put
a tree between me and the tree the sniper was firing from. And he
hit Kenny. Kenny was about five steps, maybe 30 feet out in the
open field ahead of me when that sniper opened up on us. Right away,
when Kenny didn't move ... after the sniper quit firing ... I dashed
over there to Kenny to see why he didn't move. He was hit, and I
told him, "Kenny, you're only hit in the shoulder. Get up and
walk back to the aid station." He just laid there and groaned.
So, I tried to pick him up then, to carry him back. I was pretty
weak from Normandy; anyway, we hadn't had much to eat. I couldn't
carry him by myself. I looked back over a hedgerow-Scoop said he
was there. This corporal was there; they were taking safety from
this sniper. They saw me try to carry him, so I saw this corporal
and I motioned for him to come up and help me. And he did. He come
running out in this field and we both took a chance that the sniper
had left by then. We carried him back to the hedgerow in back of
us, to safety we thought. Somebody brought a stretcher. We laid
him on there then and carried him back as gentle as we could. He
had a bullet in the lung and that was the end of Kenny.
Was he somebody you knew before
the jump? Did you know him from England?
Kenny was my buddy, my tent buddy back in England. See, I was back
in D Company by then. I was back with the guys in my platoon when
we went on the attack through Carentan.
The Germans had about four 88 guns on D-Day, sitting on a high hill
overlooking this drop area to protect it. When they saw these American
troops coming across this swamp area, they opened up on us with
these 88's. They were doing a lot of damage to us.
Evidently, either the American Air Corps or maybe the Navy ships
were firing at these 88 guns and destroyed them by the time we made
the attack on Carentan, six days later. When we got to Carentan
those guns had been captured that had fired on us on D-Day and D-Day
plus one. As I said, they chased us across the swamp on D-Day plus
one. I had a chance to get out of the fire of them and get cover
so that they couldn't see me. There were other troops coming out
from the Colonel's C.P. that were being chased across the swamp,
too. We all got out of fire then, and several of us got hit. I was
timing the guns. When I heard the report of the gun going off, within
a split second the shell got to us, about two to three miles away.
I hit the ground between the report of the gun and the time the
shell got to us. I hit the ground and shrapnel was flying over me
and hitting other guys who were running across the swamp. So I knew
then that I was getting pretty well trained to protect myself.
That was D-Day plus one, so
you were already figuring out the report of the gun?
Well, I had been fired on in that open field, too, on D-Day. By
the time we had volunteered at 10:00 (AM) and walked through water
for about two to three miles ... before we could cross the roadway
and get over to where the locks were ... we had walked through a
lot of water. It probably took us a couple of hours to walk through
that water. So by the time we crossed the road it was probably after
dinner. By the time we got back to the C.P. it was about 3:00 in
the afternoon. Then we protected it that afternoon. From about 7:00
in the morning until 3:00 in the afternoon, about six hours, is
when the lead people driven off the beach from the positions in
the English Channel ... it took them about six hours to reach us.
Then we opened up on them, all of us around the C.P.
There was a road junction and a house that was about a half mile
from Colonel Johnson's C.P., and a lot of troops went to this road
junction. That's when the German's raised a lot of trouble. They
killed a lot them at this road junction. They were coming out of
Carentan attacking this road junction. We were about half a mile
down the road, so they hit these other troops before they hit us.
We could hear the fire going on. It's what we called "Hell's
Corners." We knew the troops at "Hell's Corners"
were catching a lot of trouble from the Germans. But we weren't
catching as much back at the C.P. until the troops reached us that
night. They tried to fire on us from the marsh but we were in foxholes
and they weren't. So we could fire into the marsh and hit a lot
of them. These were troops that were coming back along the canal
from the beach. They were coming back through the swamp. So they
had to go through their own swamp to escape off the beach. Maybe
the Germans flooded that area to keep them from escaping (laughs).
A lot of them were conscripts.
Well, they were from other countries. Of course, a lot of them were
lying, you know. They figured if they told us they were from Czechoslovakia
... I remember a lot of the prisoners of war were yelling at us,
"Me Czech, me Czech!" (laughs) so that we wouldn't shoot
them as Germans.
A lot of them were older and
younger men weren't they?
Well, I think they did use a lot of older men to dig those positions,
but they also had one SS group in Normandy to back them up. Of course,
they had tanks and half-tracks and stuff in Normandy. But they weren't
expecting near the battles they were expecting up at Calais. The
area opposite England is called Calais, and that was the area the
Germans armed the most. That was opposite the White Cliffs of Dover.
When we headed back to England, Cherbourg, the principal seaport,
hadn't been captured yet. So we had to bypass that to get down to
the beach, to catch the boat back from Utah Beach to England. We
went back and landed at this town just out of London. When we were
going back, 34 days after D-Day, the Germans were firing these buzz
bombs. That was those little, small-like planes that carried heavy
bombs. We went back on an LST, Landing Ship Trainer, back to the
beaches of England. When we got there we had to go up the Thames
River a little ways, and these buzz bombs were flying over our boat
coming back from Normandy. Sometime between the invasion of Normandy
and 34 days later, they were starting to fire these buzz bombs.
I don't know how many days after the invasion of Normandy they started
firing those. Their launching pads were out of Paris somewhere.
Later on in the war they started firing V-2 rockets. They were rockets
that traveled maybe a thousand miles per hour, or whatever those
rockets would travel at.
They put them up in the air a lot higher, of course. Their trajectory
was a lot higher than a buzz bomb. The buzz bomb just flew about
five or six hundred feet off the ground on the way to England.
Out of the 42 guys in your
platoon, how many made it through the 34 days in Normandy? You said
only about 14 guys were left after D-Day.
Scoop said we were as low as eight, but we might have picked up
five or six or seven guys, but that's about all. Later on some of
them rejoined us before we jumped in Holland.
But of the 42 guys, how many
went back to England with you?
Gosh, I don't know exactly how many of us went back. Any of them
that got wounded were sent back separately. We didn't pick up any
of the wounded from the hospital on the way back to England. Then
we picked up replacements, of course, before the next jump, which
was supposed to be in Belgium in front of General Patton's troops.
General Patton had left France then and was pushing into Belgium.
He needed paratroopers to jump in front of him. But he was moving
his tanks so good that the drop zones they picked out for us were
done away with. He occupied the drop zones before we could schedule
to jump them. Up in Holland it was a different deal because we were
jumping in ahead of the British Army. They didn't travel near as
fast as Patton's group.
How many guys made it all
the way through the Bulge out of your platoon without getting wounded
or killed or captured?
I've got the company roster. On that company roster, a lot of them
got wounded and then made it back to the roster. I actually don't
know, but I would venture to say that out of the 42, four or five
got captured, another 10 were sent back to other outfits, or attached
themselves to other outfits that came into Normandy. We probably
built back up to half strength in the 34 days.
How many of the guys you jumped
with made it all the way through?
I don't know, actually. I just know I made it and several others.
Which was the hardest battle
I would say I suffered the most in Normandy. We didn't have many
food supplies. It was hard to maneuver around. Of course, we were
only there 34 days. Once we got through Carentan we occupied an
area whereby we didn't attack. We were in defensive positions out
of Carentan. We were probably only out of Carentan four or five
We were on the way to St.-Lo, which is a major city. The guys on
outpost with me, there were only 15 of us, once we got through Carentan
there were only 15 of us until the end of the mission in Normandy.
So we didn't pick up any to go back to England out of my platoon.
George Eugene Willey (July 1, 2009)
Interview made by Alan Willey, son of George Willey.