Editors note: the ensuing account about an NCO’s experience in the an airborne outfit during WWII—includingthe headline, prefatory remarks, and punctuation—isreproduced exactly as it appeared in the May 31, 1945, issue of The Gadsden County Times.
Former Chattahoochee boy—paratrooper tells of experience.
The following is the story of Sgt. Herbert Lanier, formerly of Chattahoochee, now of Texas City, Texas. He is the cousin of Mrs. Nell Faulkner, of Chattahoochee.
Sgt. Lanier served with the engineers with the 101stAirborne division, a part of Gen. George S. Patton’s Third Army and also with the First Army. He has the presidential citation for action at Bastogne, one Arrowhead for the invasion of Normandy, a ribbon for European Theater of Operations, a Silver Star for blowing up a bridge at Normandy, a Good conduct medal, three stars for three major campaigns and the Purple Heart for theinjury which put him out of commission for the time being.
In the invasion of Normandy, Sgt. Lanier’s story goes, my outfit went in about 2 a.m. on June 6, 1944, three hours and 45 minutes before H-Hour when our troops landed on the beaches.
We jumped about 4 miles inside the beach. I was sergeant of a demolition squad and we had certain work to do before the boys hit the beaches. I was a floating demolition bomb, loaded down with explosives. Had I been hit in the air there would have been just one big explosion.
Undetected our squad of 12 men landed close together and we walked about three quarters of a mile to a railroad and then about another quarter of a mile to the bridge we were to blow up.
There were machine guns stationed at each end of the bridge. We assigned two men to swim the creek and creep into position near the machine gun on the opposite side. Then when all was ready we opened fire from our side. That drew the fire of the other gun and the two leapt into the emplacement and killed four Germans. They used knives to save precious ammunition.
Paratroopers have to be careful with their ammunition because they don’t know if, when or where the next is coming. There is no supply line to bring it up from the rear.
The action cost us three men, but we accomplished our mission and we moved back toward a rendezvous with our company, when we met a two-car German patrol which had been attracted by the sound of the explosions.
I don’t know how many Germans we killed in the patrol but we cut loose with our tommy guns and after it was over I saw six or eight bodies lying around on the ground and hanging out of the abandoned trucks.
The skirmish cost us needed time and we arrived at our meeting place at 6 a.m. instead of 4:30 and by that time we heard the shelling on the beaches and where glad to know our men were near and that the invasion had started.
It was here that I got my worst scare. About this time an enemy machine gun forced us down. I spied a slit-trench and dived for it. As I looked up there was an equally surprised German. He was half asleep and smoking a cigarette. I knew it was either me or himand I am here and he isn’t.
Our combat engineer battalion worked as a unit all the way to St. Lo with the 115th Infantry of the 29th division. After three days of terrific fighting we were taken back to England for a three-day rest.
Following a two-week maneuvers preparing us for another invasion, we were sent to Holland where we jumped on the 17th of September, between Arnheim and Nijmegen on the Meuse river. Our objective was reconnaissance and bridge demolition work.
During a couple of skirmishes with patrols we lost six men, so I had only five left when we came to the little town of Kesteren. About a mile and a half from there we stopped at a farmer’s house in the little village of Leoniuk and asked for food and shelter.
Since I could speak Frenchand the Hollander could too, he understood me and instructed us that Germans were moving up toward the active front in the sector. He guided us to a wine cellar and brought us some black bread, which we ate with some wine. Three days without food or sleep had left us exhausted. We didn’t drink the wine for effect, we drank for liquid and it tasted good.
How did we go three days and nights without sleep? It wasn’t a matter of choice, you just keep going because you have to and you can do lots of things if you have to. Soldiers know the one who sees the enemy first is the safest.
Laying down on the damp cellar floor we welcomed sleep, but a few hours later we were awakened with a commotion outside and knew the farm was overrun with German troops. Something seemed to tell us the Germans sensed our presence and they began a search and found us.
As a rule, they don’t take paratroopers prisoners. The Germans hate paratroopers, especially we who wore the screamingcalbe since we were the ones who came in the Normandy invasion and caused them so much trouble.
Telling us he would take care of us later the officer hustled us into a truck and we were sent back to a “bull pen” where about 50 other prisoners were stationed. It was a flimsy three-wire affair with guards and machine guns at each end.
We slept the rest of the day on the ground and at dark they brought us some thin soup that had no flavoring but tasted pretty good since it was warm. That night they took several groups of prisoners out of the compound and that is the last we saw of them.
From their conversation we sensed that we would be put before the firing squad and believed that was the fate of those who had been taken out. Right then we began figuring some strategy to get out.
We asked the rest who would go with us and there was only six who would rather risk his life making a break than take his chances with the Germans.
All night we slept and all of the next day so we would have as much strength as possible. That morning we got what was the equivalent of our “K” rations and that was all that day. Some of our men were out and wounded and the Germans refused doctors’ care on the excuse their soldiers needed medical attention worse than we did.
At dark we put our plan into action with the others helping us. I’ll never forget Pvt. Hawkins, from Arkansas, who volunteered for an important job. His fate I do not know.
He lay on the ground and started groaning. Immediately we all jammed around him shouting and making a lot of racket. The guards dashed into the wire enclosure and the six of us went through the fence. We made a dash for the woods and a machine gun started stattering. Three of us went down and then it jammed. If it hadn’t they would have killed us all.
We reached the safety of a woods near the bull pen and once we got in the trees we never looked back. The three of us stuck together and that night traveled 28 miles south. After daylight we had to be careful in our travel but about 9 a.m. spotted an American tank and did it look good. We rejoined our unit on October 2, after being away from them 16 days following the jump.
I was made sergeant of a bridge platoon. I had gone to bridge school in England and in the U.S. learning about both portable and fixed bridges. Didn’t I want a rest? No, I wanted to get back at those babies.
They gave us a job putting across a bridge on the Moselleriver at Thionville, Luxemberg. We worked all night ’till the next morning at 9:30, when heavy artillery fire started.
When the shelling stopped I took five men and started finishing the bridge. That is the last I knew until nine days later when I woke up in a hospital in England.
I couldn’t speak. They told me I was suffering from Shrapnel and head injury. A couple of vertebrae were broken and I was paralyzed. I had no identification insignia. I didn’t know my outfit. It was only when aboy from my outfit saw me that we were able to write back and learn what had happened.
A German 88 shell had hit the bridge and thrown me about 30 feet into the air. It wasn’t until January of this year that I regained my speech. My paralysis is leaving and doctors say in a few months I’ll be good as new.