Tag Archives: William Wildes

D-Day: The 96th Connection

by Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey Williams
934th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

6/6/2009 – Minneapolis, St. Paul — Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of three articles detailing the 934th’s connection to WWII historical events.

On a dreary, overcast June afternoon in Exeter, England, Cpl. William Wildes attached nozzles to the wings of the green and white C-47 Skytrain aircraft formerly known as the “Pride of Minnesota.” Pouring approximately 100 gallons of fuel into each wing, he did it exactly like he had done several times before in the previous months for the training missions to prepare for the Normandy invasion. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, except the white invasion stripes and the large “6Z” that was painted onto the fuselage earlier in the day.

A C-47 belonging to the 96th Troop Carrier Squadron. Note the “6Z” marking on the fuselage.

“The planes were fueled in the afternoon of June 5th. We didn’t know where they were going. We just fueled them like normal,” said Cpl. Wildes, a special vehicle operator for the 96th Troop Carrier Squadron. “One pilot had ‘Pride of Minnesota’ inside an arrowhead painted on the nose, but they made him take it off when they put the invasion stripes on for D-Day.”

By evening, each of the 45 aircraft belonging to the 440th Troop Carrier Group was laden down with paratroopers from the 3rd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division for the flight across the English Channel.

Paratroopers get final instructions before leaving on aircraft 43-15087, chalk #2, piloted by Capt. Matt J. Luoma of the 95th Troop Carrier Squadron, prior to departing for the D-Day drop on Normandy.

Among the notables flown by the 96th TCS was the famed “Filthy 13,” a demolitions platoon from the 3rd Battalion Company Headquarters. Each member wore a Mohawk-style haircut and face paint and collectively they were quite tenacious fighters.

They also dropped Cpl. Bobbie Rommel, a relative of General Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, who was leading the German resistance in Normandy.
But not everything went without a hitch.

“I heard that somebody ran into the deicer boot and tore it up. They replaced this one plane and put another plane in its place. The crew chief was a guy named Bluestone. I remember him well and I fueled his plane,” the corporal recalled.

“It was all an unknown for us,” said Maj. George Johnson, who was an operations officer with the 98th Troop Carrier Squadron during the invasion. “We dropped at night and daytime for the preparations. When we went into Normandy, it was agreed that Col. Krebs, the group commander, would lead.”

Maj. Johnson was promoted to lieutenant colonel a short time later as the 96th Troop Carrier Squadron commander. After a stellar career, he retired in 1975 at the rank of major general.

At 11:53 p.m., Col. Frank X. Krebs, 440th TCG commander, took off from Exeter in aircraft number 292717, call sign ‘Ada,’ followed by 44 other aircraft from the 95th, 96th, 98th and 98th troop carrier squadrons that comprised the group. Capt. William R. Cooper led the 96th TCS in chalk 19, aircraft number 100965.

Once airborne, the only navigational aids used were blue lights on the tops of the wingtips and fuselage, as the aircraft rendezvoused with other Skytrains from the IX Troop Carrier Command and Royal Air Force. With only the moonlight to navigate them in complete radio silence, the American and British forces joined together to make the big jump across the English Channel as the lighthouses of England slowly slipped away beneath them.

Once they reached the coast of Normandy, a cloud cover enveloped the planes, followed by the blue hue of searchlights and flak from German anti-aircraft batteries.
Col. Krebs honed into the radio signal from the Pathfinders who jumped in an hour before to mark the drop zone. At 1:36 a.m., the paratroopers received the command, “stand up and hook up.” Four minutes later, the green light came on giving the okay to jump. In a matter of seconds, the sky was filled with the billowing white parachutes of the 101st Airborne Division heading for Drop Zone D, near Ste. Mere Eglise, France, 400 feet below.

Two members of the “Filthy Thirteen” complete a final pre-inspection before boarding their aircraft at Exeter. The “Filthy Thirteen” were identified by their distinctive Mohawk-style haircuts.

In his memoirs titled, “The Filthy Thirteen,” Sergeant Jake McNeice wrote the following regarding his flight into Normandy, “Those Germans were firing ammunition up at us that went all through the plane, our chutes and things like that. Those stinking automatic weapons had tracers about every fifth round. It just looked like a string of fire coming up at us. I did not know that there was any other color of tracer than orange but it looked like the greatest display of fireworks that I ever saw in my life. It was beautiful. They would have a blue one then a couple of red then a copule green. There was every color in the rainbow rising up to meet us. We lost several planeloads of paratroopers but the greater part came through it.”

Tech. Sgt. Charles Everett Bullard, a crew chief assigned to the 98th TCS, recorded a piece of 96th TCS history in his memoir, “Little One and His Guardian Angel.”

“Later, we found that two of the 96th squadron planes had crash-landed shortly after dropping their troopers,” he wrote. “One plane of the 96th squadron came in on only one engine with the radio operator wounded by a bullet in the neck. He was the group’s first Purple Heart winner; Staff Sergeant Earnest S. Iannuccilli.”

Cpl. Wildes remembers the scene when the aircraft returned.

“I was on guard duty when they left and was still up when they returned,” he said. “Some of the guys they brought back were shot up quite a bit. One of them got shot in the privates from flak that penetrated underneath the aircraft. It was a real mess. Tech. Sgt. Edward Bluestone, the crew chief whose plane I fueled earlier that day, well we lost him on that day at D-Day.”

While other troop carrier groups were scattered due to the cloud covering at the coast, misplaced their drops by flying in too fast, or were shot down by the Germans, only the 3rd Battalion of the 506th P.I.R. landed in close proximity to their designated drop zone.

The post-landing scene at Omaha Beach on 6 June 1944.

At 6:30 a.m., the main landing force of the 1st, 4th and 29th U.S. Infantry Divisions, 2nd Ranger Battalion, 3rd and 50th British Infantry Divisions and Canada’s 3rd Infantry Division landed at Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword beaches making a 60-mile long front.

But the battle was not over for the 96th TCS.

At dawn on the morning of June 7, Maj. Johnson flew the lead aircraft in the resupply mission.

“All of we operations officers were to fly on the resupply mission,” he said. “We carried ammunition, food, medical supplies and water.”

“We went in about 15 to 20 miles behind enemy lines, descended to 500 feet for the drop and came back across Omaha beach. We had a beautiful view of the landing craft,” Johnson said.

“There was lots of flak and small arms fire and aircraft damage. We were fortunate that we didn’t lose any aircraft. We were so low that all the people on the ground could shoot at us with small arms fire. I led them down to treetop level and then got out of there and back up to the proper altitude,” he remembered.

“It was quite an event in our lives. We got out of there quickly after we did our jobs. We were very fortunate,” he concluded.

The Memorial to the crew and passengers of C-47 #42-100905 flown by 1st Lt. Ray B. Pullen of the 95th Troop Carrier Squadron.

Little did anybody know, on the evening of June 5, that there would be heroes in the making who jumped out of the aircraft early the next morning. Of the 231 soldiers of the 506th P.I.R. who lost their lives at Normandy, 103 were from the 3rd Battalion, including those who died in three of the 440th TCG aircraft that perished in the operation.

The 96th Troop Carrier Squadron was awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation, the precursor to the Presidential Unit Citation, for their efforts 65 years ago.

Part I: VE-Day – The 96th Connection

Part III: The 96th Connection – From Fulbeck to the Rhine

VE Day – the 96th Connection

by Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey Williams
934th Airlift Wing Public Affairs5/1/2009 – Minneapolis-St. Paul — Editor’s note: this is the first of three articles detailing the 934th’s connection to WWII historical events.

On May 6, 1945, Edward Kennedy, chief of the Associated Press western front staff dispatched the scoop of a lifetime.At General Dwight Eisenhower’s headquarters at Reims, France, General Gustaf Jodl, German army chief of staff, signed the terms of surrender at 7:41 p.m. central war time. The European Theater of World War II was officially over.

Less than 12 hours later,

at 8:35 a.m. central war time on May 7, Kennedy’s dispatch was released by the New York desk of the Associated Press, and the world went wild with joy.

The Minneapolis Morning Tribune ran the headline, “Announcement Due at 8 A.M.: Today Will Be VE-Day” in its May 8th edition, while it’s cross-town rival,

the St. Paul Pioneer Press ran with the headline, “City Set To Mark V-E Today.” Hundreds of other newspapers, like the Rochester Post-Bulletin in Minnesota, ran with a simple headline declaring, “President Announces Victory.”

President Harry Truman joined British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Russia’s Marshal Josef Stalin in issuing a simultaneous joint proclamation of Germany’s unconditional surrender.

The VE-Day riot in Halifax, Nova Scotia

After 16 years of depression and war, the announcement sparked celebrations worldwide including thousands gathering at Trafalgar Square in London and New York’s Times Square. At the celebration in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, revelers were so excited that a riot broke out.

In Minneapolis, grocery, meat, hardware and liquor stores were closed all day on May 8, and the Cargill Corporation let their employees leave at 12:30 p.m. Near the Foshay Tower on 9th Street and Marquette Avenue, paper and streamers were thrown out of office windows like a ticker-tape parade in celebration of the European theatre’s end.

But the war was not finished for pilots and crew of the 96th Troop Carrier Squadron, the precursor to today’s 96th Airlift Squadron. Flying C-47 Skytrain cargo aircraft with the large wartime marking 6Z stenciled on the left side of the fuselage, the squadron was assigned to the 440th Troop Carrier Group of the 9th Air Force’s 50th Troop Carrier Wing.

The 96th Troop Carrier Squadron performed admirably during Operation Neptune, more commonly known as D-Day, for their role in dropping paratroopers from the 3rd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division on June 6, 1944. By December 1944, the squadron airdropped supplies to ground infantry units fighting at Bastogne, Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge, and was stationed at Orleans, France, 133 kilometers southwest of Paris, when Germany surrendered.

Statue of Joan of Arc in Orleans, France

Cpl. William G. Wildes, a special vehicle operator for the squadron, laughed when he recalled his activities on that day.”I was driving a beer truck back from Paris. We went to Paris to get beer and found out about the war’s end when we got back to quarters. I guess the war was over when I drove through the gate,” he said.

After finding others, he just thought about home, though he did have an encounter with a brother in the Navy while Cpl. Wildes was stationed in France.

“I just looked forward to seeing my mother, father, brother and sister. Most of the guys just kept to themselves and did their own thing. My brother took a C-47 flight over from England to France, which was a no-no,” the corporal added. “I was given permission to fly back with him to England and ended up staying a couple of days with him on his boat. We had a real nice time.”

Now 85 years old, he looks back fondly upon his experiences in the war.
“I enjoyed England and France. I didn’t see any action except for planes that came in on a wing and a prayer, that were all shot up. I am sorry that I didn’t stay in, but a lot of us just wanted to go home. We went into Omaha Beach at Normandy a few days after the invasion, and when we left there we got to see the cemetery. My one request is that I get to see it again,” Cpl. Wildes said.

On Dec. 31, 1945, he was discharged and worked in a shoe shop in his native Massachusetts before moving to Colorado, where he currently resides. He drove truck for 17 years before starting up his auction house business which he maintained for 25 years. “I’m thankful for the education. The military was good to me. They really taught me a lot and I don’t regret it one bit,” he concluded.

A patient gets unloaded from a C-47 after a medevac mission

In “The 440th Troop Carrier Group in Operation Neptune,” the late Randy Hils wrote, “Victory in Europe, V-E Day, fell midnight of May 8, 1945. The activities of the 440th TCG were increased rather than lessened by war’s ending. Now there were hundreds of thousands of liberated prisoners and displaced persons to be rushed homeward.
Emergency food and medical cargoes had to be rushed to critical areas throughout Europe, wherever hunger or disease threatened. There were still wounded to be moved to the hospitals.”

The mass celebrations and euphoria felt during the first V-E Day 64 years ago have been replaced with much smaller and more somber wreath laying ceremonies in remembrance of those who fought and died on foreign fields two generations ago.

Update: Cpl. William G. Wildes has passed away since this story was first published.

Part II – D-Day: The 96th Connection

Part III – The 96th Connection: From Fulbeck to the Rhine