0230: 82nd Airborne fly into the cloud bank

US paratroopers about to embark on their D-Day mission. the censor has obscured the unit insignia. Note the hastily applied d-day stripes.

US paratroopers about to embark on their D-Day mission. the censor has obscured the unit insignia. Note the hastily applied d-day stripes.

An hour after the 101st Airborne began their drops the 82nd Airborne followed up with theirs. They too encountered the thick bank of cloud over the Cotentin peninsula that was to see so many of paratroopers miss their Drop Zones.

Leading them was Matthew B Ridgeway:

We flew in a V of Vs, like a gigantic spearhead without a shaft. England was on double daylight-saving time, and it was still full light, but eastward, over the Channel, the skies were darkening. Two hours later night had fallen, and below us we could see glints of yellow ame from the German anti-aircraft guns on the Channel Islands. We watched them curiously and without fear, as a high-flying duck may watch a hunter, knowing that we were too high and far away for their fire to reach us. In the plane the men sat quietly, deep in their own thoughts. They joked a little and broke, now and then, into ribald laughter.

Nervousness and tension, and the cold that blasted through the open door, had its effect upon us all. Now and then a paratrooper would rise, lumber heavily to the little bathroom in the tail of the plane, find he could not push through the narrow doorway in his bulky gear, and come back, mumbling his profane opinion of the designers of the C.47 airplane. Soon the crew chief passed a bucket around, but this did not entirely solve our problem.

A man strapped and buckled into full combat gear finds it extremely difcult to reach certain essential portions of his anatomy, and his efforts are not made easier by the fact that his comrades are watching him, jeering derisively and offering gratuitous advice.

Wing to wing, the big planes snuggled close in their tight formation, we crossed to the coast of France. I was sitting straight across the aisle from the doorless exit. Even at fteen hundred feet I could tell the Channel was rough, for we passed over a small patrol craft – one of the check points for our navigators – and the light it displayed for us was bobbing like a cork in a millrace.

No lights showed on the land, but in the pale glow of a rising moon that was a little more than a quarter full, I could clearly see each farm and field below. And I remember thinking how peaceful the land looked, each house and hedgerow, path and little stream bathed in the silver of the moonlight. And I felt that if it were not for the noise of the engines we could hear the farm dogs baying, and the sound of the barnyard roosters crowing for midnight.

A few minutes inland we suddenly went into cloud, thick and turbulent. I had been looking out the doorway, watching with a profound sense of satisfaction the close-ordered flight of that great sky caravan that stretched as far as the eye could see. All at once they were blotted out. Not a wing light showed. The plane began to yaw and plunge, and in my mind’s eye I could see the other pilots, fighting to hold course, knowing how great was the danger of a collision in the air.

You could read concern on the grim, set faces of the men in my plane as they turned to peer out the windows, looking for the wink of the little lavender lights on the wing tips of the adjoining planes. Not even our own wing lights showed in that thick murk. It was all up to the pilots now.

See Soldier: The Memoirs of Matthew B. Ridgeway

US paratroopers on board their C-47 about to depart.

US paratroopers on board their C-47 about to depart.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeff Bilyeu June 5, 2018 at 3:23 pm

Maybe contact the D-Day museum in New Orleans? I seem to remember them having a program to help identify soldiers from famous pictures.

Editor June 3, 2018 at 7:59 pm

I know a lot of effort has gone into identifying men seen in the best known D-Day images. Possibly the 82nd Airborne Museum might help?

Matthew hurski June 1, 2018 at 6:53 pm

Do you have any information on the second guy on the left or someone still alive who knew these men?

ALAN ZIESLER August 30, 2017 at 12:39 am

I think that the first guy on the left was my brother. Richard Ziesler , got shot twice and then got hit by shrap metal in the back. They finally sent him home after that.

Rob Wallace January 20, 2017 at 1:15 am

Thank you for this rare account. It was chilling to me.

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