Friday, June 06, 2008

Gliding Into D-Day

Yesterday the alarm went off, the television popped onto the local news, and my husband rolled over to say…..”You know D-Day is tomorrow, don’t you?”

“Yes, yes, I’m painfully aware,” I responded as I rolled over to lull myself back to sleep trying hard not to think of all the many, many things I needed to accomplish during my fourth day of summer… mainly because it will be all over before you know it.

Yes, I’ll admit it….it does seem strange for my husband and I to begin our day discussing D-Day of all things. It wasn’t the only thing we discussed, however. I also mentioned the durn birds had already started belting out their chirps, chortles, and whistles to each other, and our cat, (actually a small child disguised in a cat’s body) was already at the bedroom door meowing to be set free to the confines of the back yard. Dear Hubby and I bantered back and forth regarding who would let the cat out. It seemed fair to me that he should let the cat out since he had to get up anyway. He argued that the cat wasn’t his. She isn’t mine either, and anyway,I didn’t have anywhere to be…..anywhere but my soft, warm bed.

I tried to divert the sporadic conversation away from the cat. “Hey,” I said, “have you noticed that the top six news stories so far this morning have all involved murder? Sheesh!”

Hubby ignored Atlanta’s murder rate and said, “Hey, if you go let the cat out you can make the coffee before you come back.” He gave my shoulder a rub as an attempt to convince me.

“No, no, no, no….”

We bantered back for a bit. The cat’s meow eventually developed into a cry that might as well have been nails on a chalkboard. I gave in and flipped the covers back, “Ok, ok,” I said, “but I’m NOT making your coffee.” I half expected the cat to have her back legs crossed. She didn’t, but she did make a quick path to the door.

Hubby chuckled as I stalked off. As a parting shot he reminded me once more, “Hey, it’s D-Day tomorrow.” I grimaced.

So, it’s D-Day again. Another D-Day and I don’t have IT prepared. Another D-Day and I have failed yet again to get my research together to honor my paternal uncle….Cyrus “Buck” Carson, a glider pilot during the D-Day invasion.

Earlier in the week it dawned on me D-Day was almost upon us. I got busy and began looking for the order of service from Uncle Buck’s funeral a few years ago. I had saved it because Uncle Buck’s wartime exploits were detailed on the folded brochure along with his picture. For the past two years I have let D-Day come and go and have not written a thing about Uncle Buck because I was depending on that elusive paper.

I had saved the paper because I knew I could use it in someway with my World War II unit. As a history teacher I feel it is very important that my colleagues and I not only know our content backwards and forwards, I also feel we need to know and understand how the event has impacted our own family….our lives. We are then so much better prepared when one of our students asks the inevitable question, “Why is this important?” or the more popular “So what?”

By connecting to events in a personal way I am able to help my students connect in their own way. Maybe their grandmother or grandfather served during World War II or the Korean War. Perhaps their father was a POW during Vietnam? Perhaps their grandmother has hung onto a ration book from World War II. What a great way to bring history up close and personal.

I’ve looked everywhere for my papers regarding Uncle Buck and his wartime exploits. I mean everywhere. I know I saw it just six months ago. I know because I remember saying to myself, “Self…..stick this where you can find it come the first of June. You’re going to need it.” Guess I stuck it somewhere really good. Now, I’ve run out of time. I can’t even call my cousin to say send me something……I’m out of time.

But I’ve made a decision…I’m not going to let not having the paper I need stop me from writing about Uncle Buck. Much like our forefathers who were members of our “Greatest Generation” I will plow on ahead and look my foe straight on win or loose. Afterall, I call always write a follow up post when I come upon the paper, can’t I?

Growing up my Uncle Buck was at my house quite a bit. My aunt would stay inside and talk to my mom while Uncle Buck would get involved in some outside project with my dad…..usually something mechanical. I would enjoy their conversations popping back and forth between the men and the women taking it all in. My Uncle worked for Lockheed back then. I knew he had an important job working with the C5A Galaxy plane. Family lore says that when a wheel came off one of the planes during the 70s upon landing, and the wheel went bouncing across the runaway, my uncle was very involved with figuring out why the wheel fell off in the first place.

During all the times I spent with my uncle he would always engage me in grown up conversation regarding current events, mechanical things, and even a bit of history. I’m not sure what Uncle Buck loved more…..talking to people, or having them listen to him talk. You didn’t get a lot of words in….

Yes, my uncle was involved in aviation, but I didn’t give it much thought. I mean lots of my relatives had worked for Lockheed in Marietta, Georgia at some point in time. It never even crossed my mind he had ever done anything else but go to work or wait on my aunt, a woman that my Uncle Buck simply adored.

It wasn’t until later in his life that it dawned on me he had served during World War II and had been involved in the D-Day invasion. I was floored…simply floored. During one reunion visit I got him to talk (this was Uncle Buck….it wasn’t hard) and his story was amazing. I had recently watched the movie The Longest Day and was really intrigued by the gliders and the men they carried in prior to the invasion by sea. Just a few days later I’m sitting with my own relative telling me things about flying a glider and some of the horrible things he witnessed that day. He cried as he related some of his memories, and I welled up with love, respect and pride… much pride for this man who was simply my Uncle Buck.

When we think of the he Normandy D-Day invasion our mind often rests on images on of the amphibious landing craft heading into the beach and waves of men wading up out of the water while being assalted by thousands of bullets, but the invasion actually began with overnight parachute and glider landings. Had it not been for my Uncle Buck and the other members of the US Army Aircorp Glider Pilot Corps the first wave of soldiers would not have gotten to the shores of Normandy as they did. The soldiers who were carried on the gliders had the very important job of securing the right and left flanks of the beach prior to the advance of the larger invasion force on the beach.

So, what’s it like to fly a glider? At this website I found a vivid description from a veteran American glider pilot. He said: “Imagine”, he said, “flying a motorless, fabric-covered, CG-4A glider, violently bouncing and jerking on a 11/16 inch thick nylon rope 350 feet back of the C-47 tow plane. You see the nervous glider infantrymen behind you, some vomiting, many in prayer, as you hedge-hop along at tree-top level instinctively jumping up in your seat everytime you hear bullets and flak tearing through the glider. You try not to think about the explosives aboard. It’s like flying a stick of dynamite through the gates of Hell.”

Uncle Buck told me the hardest part of flying a glider into an invasion situation was at the moment of release from the tow plane. At that moment the pilot was committed to landing no matter what. There was no way for him to gain altitude. This means that many gliders had little wiggle room if the landing zone was under fire, mined, or if there was large equipment, buildings, etc. blocking the way.

The actual flights began on June 5th….and what of the glider pilots themselves? George Buckley's account is the closest I’ve found that mirrors many of the triumphs, fears, and tragedies that my Uncle Buck told me. Buckley relives his first few minutes over France:

Shortly after we crossed the coast of France, small arms fire and heavier flak started coming up at the planes at the front of the formation, and intensified the closer we got to our LZ. It looked like fluid streams of tracers zigzagging and hosing across the sky, mixed in with the heavier explosions of flak. One wondered how anything could fly through that and come out in one piece. After the front of the formation had passed over the German positions and woke them all up, we at the tail end of the line began to get hit by a heavier volume of small arms fire which sounded like corn popping, or typewriter keys banging on loose paper as it went through our glider. I tried to pull my head down into my chest to make myself as small as possible; I tucked my elbows in close to my body, pulled my knees together to protect the vital parts of my manhood and was even tempted to take my feet off the rudder pedals so they wouldn't stick out so far. At that point I really started to sweat.

Buckley also recounts what happened to several of the individual gliders that made it into Normandy that morning including Glider No. 1. It crashed into a line of trees and the co-pilot was killed along with Brig. Gen. Pratt, the Assistant Division Commander of the 101st Airborne Division. I remember Uncle Buck telling me about Pratt’s death. The story goes that many felt the glider was overloaded. It also didn’t help that a steel plate had been added to the floor of the glider to protect the flight crew from flak.

Another glider pilot, James Di Pietro, tells of his D-Day glider experience here and a brief history of the combat glider can be found here.

I started off this post with a little mundane morning banter between myself and my husband. It seems a bit out of place, doesn’t it? I mean isn’t this supposed to be a remembrance of my uncle and the other glider pilots that served during the D-Day invasion and during the following days?

I guess the point I’m attempting to make by including the back and forth between my husband and I is the men and women who served with the Allied forces during World War II ensured our right to the mundane. Yes, we have new enemies today to worry about, but my only real worries this morning was avoiding making the coffee, hoping the cat didn’t have an accident on my carpet, and finding some little piece of paper I thought was required to pay proper homage to uncle.

I don’t even have a clue….can’t even begin to fathom what my uncle and the other men at Normandy went through that day and I’m worried about a piece of paper and getting out of a warm bed.

Context and perspective……I need to get a grip.

If you are able to get close to a member of our Greatest Generation today whether they were at Normandy or not….give them a hug and say thank-you.

See many of my other posts regarding World War II here
See my tribute to the war service of my maternal uncle here


Mrs. Bluebird said...

Thank you so very much for this.

God Bless your Uncle Buck.

My family didn't have anyone in the invasion of D-Day - my mom's cousin was killed in March of '45, a bit later. However, in my family we've always been very strong believers in respecting and thanking those men and women who, quite honestly, saved the world. June 6th has always been special to us. Before 9/11, I always flew my flag on June 6th - now it flies every day.

I remember vividly when President Reagan did his speech there in Normandy, honoring those who fought and died during D-Day. And I remember how fitting, somehow, it was that he passed away nearly on the same day. He was the first President I voted for.

And then there's flag day on the 14th, and when you collect Rev War flags (like I do) and your hubby is a Civil War flag historian, that's a pretty special day too.

And my birthday is the 15th...but that's something I don't celebrate anymore. :)

Again, thank you.

M-Dawg said...

Lovely post EHT -

I've been to the American Cemetary in Normandy and all I can say is that it was very emotional for me. Those men buried in that cemetary gave their lives for my freedom - wow.

My grandfather fought in Battle of the Bulge and never spoke about it. I'm glad that your Uncle spoke about his experience to you.

Cotter Pen said...

June 6 is a difficult day for me to forget. See my blog I have visited Normandy several times, as it holds an almost mystical attraction for me. Also gliders. Long story. I served in the U.S. Army in the 1960's in France, alongside an airfield where gliders took off in-tow, were dropped like kites on a broken string, then floated and circled again and again, then landed. I loved to watch them.

Dan Edwards said...

Thanks for the great post! One of my Uncles was at Normandy; he piloted a C-47 dropping the paratroopers off. His plane was hit by flak and went down. He told me he thought he'd jumped out from somewhere between four and three hundred feet up.....He had numerous adventures and finally, was told by his capturers, "Fur sich, der Krieg ist uber." Off to POW camp he went.

Uncle Stan used to talk to kids at a middle school in suburban Chicago area.....and the teacher of one class got him to tell her enough of it to create a short book, "D-Day and Beyond: A true story of Escape and POW survival" by Julie Phrend and Stanley Edwards, Jr.

We need to get down the stories of our family history. I have three cassette tapes I made while talking to my uncle. I need to transcribe them sometime.....

Again, thanks for your D-Day story !