What It Was Like

Four stories from the Normandy invasion.

Paratroopers from the 82nd and 101st airborne prepare to jump over Normandy on June 6, 1944. (US Army Signal Corps)

It was the most dramatic day of the worst war in history, and many of the veterans who lived through D-Day would later tell their stories to relatives, historians, journalists, even strangers. Fortunately for the rest of us, hundreds of these accounts are archived in collections located throughout the country. Here’s a sample.

SOURCES: LOC: Veterans History Project, Library of Congress; RWN: R.W. Norton Art Foundation Oral History Project; WVHP: Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project, University of North Carolina at Greensboro. (Excerpts have been condensed and edited for clarity.)

James L. Larkin
84th Troop Carrier Sq., European Theater. Glider pilot

(James L. Larkin in cockpit of training glider. Photo: R.W. Norton Art Foundation)

Larkin describes flying his Waco CG-4A glider into Normandy on D-Day. The glider, attached to a 350-foot nylon rope, was towed by a C-47.

We got to the French coast and we were all in formation, and…we flew into a hail of anti-aircraft fire the likes of which you’ve never seen. Then we hit a cloud bank that wasn’t supposed to be there. Supposed to be no clouds, and we hit a cloud bank.

I was talking to my pilots [of the C-47 towplane], and they stopped talking when we were in that cloud. The next thing you know, my airspeed needle was up, up, up, up, from 105 miles an hour—which was supposed to be our cruising speed—my airspeed indicator was reading 190. And it was redlined at 175 or something. You talk about wild! Every shudder and shake, I thought the [glider] was going to come apart. But I didn’t know what was going on. I had no idea. I was in a cloud and I was following the rope.

All of a sudden the rope starts [climbing] up. I follow off after it and we come out of the cloud up on top. There’s the [C-47], both engines running, and I’m still [attached]. Back into the cloud the airplane goes again, then it picked up airspeed and pulled us down with it and ran our airspeed indicator up against the peg. Came out [of the cloud] a second time. Crazy deal! But there’s my [tow] airplane, both engines running. Moon shining. I could see him. He rolled over on his side and disappeared into the cloud. When that rope came tight, it broke. And there I was, 900 feet over Normandy and 25 miles from the landing zone.

What happened is, the pilots must have been killed, and had the power settings all set. And the airplane just went crazy without any control. Anyhow, they found the airplane a couple months later, in a patch of woods about 30 miles from where the line broke. And all the guys in it, they were all dead. (Source: RWN)


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