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D-Day....James L. Whalen

February 22, 2012

On June 6, 1944 my father James L. Whalen, a paratrooper in the 87th Airborne Division, was dropped before the first wave of one of the greatest battles of World War II – D Day – the Normandy Invasion. He wrote this letter some months later, after he was wounded, captured and ultimately escaped the fleeing Germans.             

Sun. Nov 26, 1944 - Dear Pop, Thought I’d whip off a short line off about the Normandy Deal. That is what I can tell of it. Will give you the high (might be called the low) spots on how I wound up on a Jerry diet.“The beginning od the end”. We took off from an airport somewhere in England. On the evening of the 5th of June, flew for several hours, and jumped in France about 1 am on June 6th.  Certainly was an odd sensation to look out the plane door and see the English coast disappearing in the distance as we moved across the Channel toward the enemy held coast.We had been thoroughly briefed as to our mission and knew we were to land near the town of St. Mere Eglise on the Cotentin Peninsula. Upon landing three of us stayed behind in search of our communications bundle.  We wandered for miles during the night. Saw them pound the beaches from a hill during the early morning.  Greatest show I’ve ever seen except for the fact that you knew people were being killed in all the devilish beauty.  The sky was lit up for miles with flares – parachutes seemed to hang in the sky.  The Air Corps was bombing, the Navy was shelling, and the Germans were retaliating with flak, rockets and fire power of all descriptions. It looked like one hundred Green Brooks* plus on a 4th of July evening, although several miles inland the earth was bouncing us up and down.  Amidst the flashes of explosions and rumblings in the distance of bombs and 16 inch Navy guns, one could hear dog fights going on up above the smoke and destruction which prevailed.  It was really a ringside seat and hard to realize that you were witnessing and taking part in the greatest invasion in history.The sensation of combat, that is, going into combat, can be likened to that of entering a football game.  The tension and nervousness build up and then the whistle of the opening kick off, then you’re too busy doing your job to think of anything else.Well anyway, just about sunrise an ME109 came roaring over at tree top height.  We dove in a very handy ditch and he kept buzzing by.  We finally found our bundle and then ran into some other fellows, making 10 of us in all.  For the past five or six hours we had heard nor seen any enemy or friendly fire.  Knowing we were out of contact and nowhere near where planned and suspecting the invasion was a flop, we decided to raise a little hell of our own.All ten of us headed for a small town just below us in a valley.  As we entered there were no signs of the enemy.  We took about half the village and inquired of some of the French people about the situation - whether or not there were Germans in the area, etc.  They were all smiles and we proceeded to head out past the next building into an open area.  Lucas got about twenty yards and I about 30.  We both hit the ground.  There was a Jerry machine gun across the road not over 35 yards away and firing down from high ground between us and the only cover which was the building we had just left.  Lucas headed back flying low.  I could see puffs of dirt at his heels as all hell broke loose. I knew my only chance was to follow the same route so immediately donning my track shoes I hit the road – new world’s record for the 30 yard dash. Got my pockets full of holes and a grenade nicked, but otherwise unscathed. Funy but being shot at made me mad as h---, besides scared. Caught a Jerry cold up the alley as Blackie blew up our radio.  Then tried to cover each other to get out.  Got over a wall on a small rise where I saw Blackie run around the corner my way.  He ran into a Jerry in front and another behind, dodged in a doorway as one came in the other about 10 feet away where he got hit with a Schmizer machine pistol.  I had it at the same time.  Thought at the time that everyone had been killed.  Knowing I couldn’t move I lay on my rifle and “played” dead.  Two Germans came along a little later and walked around me – talk about hearts beating like a base drum, I was it!  One walked away and the other started to but came back and kicked me in the groin.  #!#!  Then when they saw what was up, I caught some rifle butts, etc.  Fully expected to be finished off if caught.  If they had passed I’d have caught them both plus four more and a machine gun not 25 yards away. Had gotten within 50 yards of their command post.This German officer shoved his machine pistol in my stomach and said in English, “You tell me your Regiment and how many men there are here or I will kill you.” Just like a movie!  Probably would have been finished except for the fact that they were hurting for information.  Figured that as long as I was quiet I had a chance.They took me back to their command post which evidently was Division from the colonels and generals there. First patched up one hole in my shoulder – only one I knew I had at the time.  An old rugged looking general kept asking me questions and got blind mad when I couldn’t understand German.  Then an interpreter would translate in English.  I wouldn’t answer and the general would pop his cork again and wave his grenade.  This went on for quite some time. Would have been quite humorous if I hadn’t been such an embarrassing position.About that time they found a grenade in my pocket – was really hurtin’ then.  Think I’d have given about anything to have had a chance to use it.  Stood up against a wall for what seemed years. (Actually 6 or 8 hours)  Fully expected to get the finishing touches any minute.  Finally was taken to Marbourg where we got in an air raid by forts. (B24s)  Then walked to Valognes to a prisoner of war stockade and from there to a hospital.  Found I had a bullet in the chest besides one in the shoulder and some schrapnel in the arm and chin.  Didn’t have a stitch of clothing without holes in it – shirt had five.I think the bombing, artillery, mortar and Navy fire in Valognes and Cherbourg was the roughest. Was really lucky to get back as the Germans kept coming through the hospital and evacuating the walking wounded.  Four of us hid each time and missed the boat. Debated several times whether to sweat out the “works” or to go along. Figured the odds were better there which proved to be true as only one of the others got back.Will stop for now so take it easy.  Lots of love to you and Mom,JimPS   Am now mailing this May 27th. Have been carrying it around since Nov. Would appreciate it if you didn’t go passing it around.  Love, J