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2nd LT Harry Loftis: Gliding Over the Beaches of Normandy
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2nd LT Loftis was a glider pilot during WW2, and participated in the D-Day invasion.
During WW2, glider planes were used to carry ground troops, and sometimes a jeep, into enemy territory. Regular planes dragged these gliders via a rope, which was cut over enemy territory at the release point. The glider kept flying, to hopefully find a clear landing zone behind enemy lines. Since the gliders were flimsy, designed for a single flight, and always sent into enemy territory, flying them was a notoriously dangerous job.
2nd Lieutenant Harry Loftis was one of these brave pilots. He flew many missions, and fought in the Normandy Invasion, Operation Market Garden, and Operation Plunder.
To learn more about glider pilots during World War Two, visit ww2gp.org.
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Today, we’ll hear from 2nd LT Harry Loftis. Loftis served during WW2 as a glider pilot, and fought in the D-Day invasion, Operation Market Garden, and Operation Plunder.
2nd Lt Harry Loftis:
A lot of people ask me why I joined the glider pilots. There's four boys in my family and three of them had already joined the Navy when war broke out. So, I went to Dallas and took an exam to be a Navy pilot. I passed the exam and they said, "You go home and the draft board's not going to bother you, but you've got to wait your time in line because you'll get your training here at the edge of Dallas." And my wife's mother, incidentally, she was my girlfriend then, was there. So, I went back waiting to be called in to be a Navy pilot.
I waited and waited. Really, it wasn't as long as I thought, but young men were very impetuous at that time and they wanted to get with it. And one of the recruiters came down, I worked for a newspaper and we'd have coffee every day. He came in one day and he said, "I've got the very thing for you. You ought to get into this glider program." Well, I didn't know anything about it and nobody else knew anything about it, but they were recruiting glider pilots and they put out brochures. It was like a beautiful resort somewhere where you'd be going. They said, 'You'll travel all over the United States. You'll see more places than you've ever thought you'd see in your life, and you'll really get into something that's going to be exciting."
Well, it sounded pretty good, and I talked it over with one or two of my buddies, and we all joined at the spur of a moment. So, we ended up in Kelly Field and then the glamor was gone for a little while. You can imagine what raw recruits went through with.
I had some flight training before the service, and I went to primary training at Janesville, Wisconsin. That was about 45 hours. And from there we went to deadstick landing school, which meant you took a power plane and took it out some five or seven or eight miles up, 5,000 feet, and you cut the engine and raise the nose up and killed the prop on it to where it was ... Then it was a glider, and then you had to find your way slowly back to a field and land between two sets of post that's hanging up. And this was called our deadstick landing school.
And then from that we went to Wickenburg, Arizona, which was nothing but gliders that is the same thing as a Cub airplane but they took the engines out and we had 30 or 40 hours of that way out in the desert and we'd make our way back to the base without any power of any kind.
And then the next step was Lubbock, Texas, and that was the first time we ever saw a CG-4A glider. Actually, when we went in, they didn't know what we were going to be flying. They just had an emergency group of creative people that drew the plans for this. And then we got the CG-4A glider, and I'm amazed every time I think about it because it's a big ugly duckling, but it was a fantastic piece of machinery. It's obvious when you see all of the things that it did that it had to be a good flying machine. Had very few instruments that you used, air speed of course, and turn bank indicators and what have you, but you were virtually flying by the seat of your pants and you had spoilers on it instead of flaps and what have you. And it looked like a broomstick that you pull the spoilers back with. That was one thing to aid you in getting down. It's hard to believe, but you could put it into a side slip just like you could a small airplane.
And then finally, and I had to use it on D-Day in Normandy, although I didn't know how it was going to work. We had deceleration chutes and we pulled the chute much like the space people do now. And out of the tail of the glider came this balloon. And of course, as it ended up in Normandy, it dropped us right down into an apple orchard, which was the field I was going for.
There was some times during our training period where the CG-4A would break up for some reason. I know in some instances the airplanes that was towing you for some reason would cut you loose and then you had the tow rope that would wrap around the ... And we had many crashes and people killed that way. And you may recall the instance, and I believe it was in St. Louis or some of the mid-country, but where they had the mayor and all of the town celebrating the CG-4A glider and up above the air base with thousands of people watching, the wing came off and killed everybody in it. Then we had the other instances where people would just make a bad landing. They'd stay too far out in the desert, and then they had to make landings. And you'd be surprised. Some of them landed in some terrible places and got out of it a lot. But we also had a lot of casualties in training, too.
Some of it happened right with us watching it, but we were taken into this with the full knowledge that it was a very suicidal-type thing. You can imagine. And we lived with the same questions that people ask when they ask you, “Why did you go into the gliders?” And we knew that we were going behind the lines every time. We was going to land right in the middle of the enemy. And we knew that we had to be very adept at all kinds of guns that we used. And in Fort Knox, Kentucky, we went through what's called sort of a ranger-type thing. And I thought they was going to kill me in three months before. By the time we left there, we were not only good pilots and particularly in landing aircraft, but we were good fighters, too. It was all a part of ... And that's sort of exciting really when you're in it and involved in it.
You've got to understand that there was no one forced into the glider pilots. We were all volunteers. We knew the type thing we're going to do. And I can tell you now that from the very beginning, we established pride and a esprit de corps that we were all for one and one for all. And I'll have to be fair with you, sometimes glider pilots was pretty rough out in the communities where they are. They sort of had a devil-may-care attitude. I plead innocent to that, but that is the truth.
We were pretty much like the out child at the family reunion. We were a specific unit off at the side together all the time. We were right next to places where the power pilots lived, but they stayed where they were and we stayed where we did. Their mission was entirely different, although we were in the same groups and the same squadrons. And it become interesting enough that people were asking a lot of questions and you got a lot of attention.
And I guess all of us has a lot of ego, and I don't mind telling you that I was very proud to be a glider pilot. I saw things in training that was horrible to look at and see and have to live with, horrible things that happened to fellow students who was flying. And then I saw some horrible, terrible things in combat. But I've said many times, and I'll say it again, that while if I could have snapped a switch and end the war, I'd have done it in a minute, but not being the case and being in it, I simply was felt honored to be a glider pilot and to be a part of the things that I saw and the things that I did, and I wouldn't trade one minute of it for anything.
We got wings on our graduation just like all of the cadets did elsewhere, and we all graduated as flight officers and we wore the pink and the green and the wings were fashioned after a regular set of wings except in the center of the wings was the letter G, of course, that meant gilder pilots. But on some occasion, somebody was asking in a group of people with power pilots in it and asked, "What does the G stand for?" Because the power pilots didn't have it. And the power pilot stood up and said, "That means G for guts. Those guys have got the guts." So, that's an interesting way to get something identified and started.
And so, we're proud. And incidentally, several of our astronauts now have been given honorary glider certificates and wings, and so we should carry on the tradition some.
I don't remember a person that regretted being in glider pilots. Now, they were made out of fabric and some metal, unlike most of the flying machines that you've got. And, of course, we landed in terrain that if you had a field that was a hundred yards, well, that was enough to put any glider that has ever existing. We landed in extremely small fields and that's what our training was for and that's what this was for. And we went in with the parachute troops that had to have equipment, they had to have jeeps for their officers to cover the area. We had to have a lot of the things in our museum at Terrell, Texas, the tractors that they built runways with.
My first mission was carrying in a squadron of bazooka shooters and what have you. So, that's the type of thing we did, and that's where the pride comes from and the closeness of a group. When we got through that mission, we came out. The other groups, the other soldiers, they went on fighting, but our orders to get back to our base the best way we could.
We were trained to fight the minute we got on the ground and we were trained for that just like any other soldier was. But our orders was when things are consolidated, you get back to the base as quick as you can. We may have another mission for you to fly immediately. So, we felt that the best way out sometime we had to fight our way sort of getting out of that circle. But when the ground troops got to us, then we started coming out.
We knew what our aircraft was a week or two ahead. They had them all marshaled, ready to go, and they would only take a few of the glider pilots from each squadron. And there's 15 from my squadron, and I was lucky enough to be one of them, and they put us behind barbed-wire fences and no one could get to us or we couldn't get to anyone. We'd go and have our meals together. There's no communication.
Or something a little interesting. I never was a gambler over there, but I had few English pounds and I said, "What am I going to do with these?" And they was playing blackjack. And so, like a lucky beginner, I sat down and started with maybe 20, $30 in pounds and we played blackjack the night before our drop until about midnight. Nobody was asleep. They were awake and eager. And I won some $800 playing blackjack. I haven't played a game of blackjack since, but I wound it up in a rubber band. And as we started the breakfast, I didn't know what to do with it. I had a very good friend named Kermit Kennedy in Florida, and I saw him and I threw him a pass with these bills and said, "Send this to mom." And, of course, he did immediately. But that's an interesting area of getting ready. We were briefed each day where we were going. And there was one thing that seems like it was not very fair, but when they briefed us during these days of briefings, they gave us pictures from an airplane at 20,000 feet.
Well, you know the story about Normandy and the hedgerows, and then also it should be said that where the hedgerows were was also a large dam circling, say, a rectangular field, which was a terrible thing for even tanks to go over, much less a glider to fly through.
Now, we didn't get all of that information, and when we looked down from 20,000 feet, it looked like hedges. But when we got to the beach and they're shooting at you from all direction, then you look up and see nothing but tall trees in front of you. Then you had to do some tall thinking. You looked straight down, then you could see that little field. So, what I'm trying to tell you is they didn't tell us everything about that.
But during that briefing session, and they gave us the best information that they could possibly give, and some people were worried an awful lot about it, but I can't remember. Scared? Yes. We were all scared, but not one time do I know of any of my friends or myself were scared enough that we didn't know just exactly what we was going to do when we cut off of that tow rope and where we were going.
So, having lived and it ground on you all the time. I saw some of the greatest acts of courage by glider pilots of anybody in the world. And I'm sorry that they didn't know much about it because the ruling people during warfare was power pilots and there were a power of command and some of the finest men in the world, but they knew nothing about what we did, know nothing about the thousands of escapes that we had and some of the horror of killings we had. And we had one man that was given a DFC, but he flew off somewhere a distance from our base and was given, and he kept quiet about it and nobody knew about it until after the war.
I'm just telling you that I saw some tremendous events that should have been recognized and they were not. And sometimes I feel bad about that and that's the reason that I'm glad that this is being done so that people know exactly what glider pilots did and what they were in for, great men of courage.
There's an interesting story, if you'll let me repeat it. And anytime you want to read all of, you can find it word-for-word from Ike Eisenhower's Crusade in Europe. The head of the flying part of the invasion was by air marshal who was a British and I can't think of his name now, but about a week or two.
Was it Leigh-Mallory?
Leigh-Mallory. Yeah, that's what I'm talking about. Leigh-Mallory told Ike a week or two ahead of time, he says, "You can't send these gliders and troops in. They're got it covered. You can't land, it's going be unsuccessful. You're going to have a 75% casualty." And there's a bunch of con and nothing more happened then until the day before. And he went back to Eisenhower and he told him again, "You should not do this." Well, Eisenhower said, "I'm set with the blue bloods of all of the American mothers at sending their sons into this. But we have got to have Normandy consolidated so we can go into Cherbourg," which is a big place that ships could come into with supplies. "We've got to take it and I've got to send them." And I think that somebody said he prayed over it, but that night he says, "It's a go."
And so, knowing all of this, he made the decision that we went in. Now, you've got to understand, we knew from the day we graduated that gliders had no engines. And if that was the case when we went into combat, we were going to land without engines. There's no way to get out. We're going to be completely surrounded. And this was true of every drop we made. One drop, we went 67, 68 miles behind enemy mines and dropped. So, these were a part of things that we knew. Some of them, they didn't give us the whole story and I don't have any hard feelings about it, but most of the times they said it like it was.
Some gliders landed at night, but none from our base. And we took off on D-Day about 9:00 or 10:00 in the morning. We had spent a lot of time with the troops that we were carrying because you can understand that there was no people in the world who had more guts than the 82nd or the 101st Airborne. They were great, great soldiers, but they were worried about something they didn't understand. And that was a glider. Some of them had been glider troops and knew, but others had never been inside a glider.
So, I spent an hour or two or three getting to know every one of the men's names and trying to console them and tell them what we were going to do. And we built up a pretty good relationship. And then it paid off for me because they got to laughing and cutting up and kidding me. One of them saw where I had a parachute on my seat and he said, "Man, he got a parachute and we don't have parachutes."
Well, I had to explain to them that they gave all of us parachutes to sit on as an instrument to keep bullets from going through your bottom. Now, we had flak suits that we wore and we had helmets, but from bottom. And you can imagine a parachute folded up, it'd be awful hard for a shell to get through. So, we had that kind of attitude with them. They got to know my name. I got to know them. I knew that the minute we landed, we would break up a short while after that. But I had them pretty well settled down and I don't remember any of the words that was, except when it was in [inaudible] that were being said, because they were sort of silent. But when we hit the beaches, well, they were getting all hell. You could see tracer bullets coming all around us and hitting the back in the fabric. One of the boys got hit in the hip, but it wasn't real bad, but it was the most awesome fight in the world. If a man can't get a little excited when he sees D-Day in Normandy, something's wrong with him. It was absolutely, unquestionably the most magnificent act of warfare that I think the world's ever known.
When you're on tow and you're being towed at 120 miles an hour, maybe a little more, the wind rushing was pretty loud and we sometimes were carrying two gliders and they were noisier because they were spread out on the sides. But there was enough that you could yell and holler at them and tell them what you're doing and keep them reassured.
You land from many, many fields on an airborne mission. And when we took off in England, we were just east of London and you start circling higher and higher waiting for a trail for miles and miles long were gliders, one right after the other. So, it took us some time to get ready and then we start the last turn that's going straight forward to Normandy. Well, immediately you start seeing more activities, see more airplanes in the air. The comfortable good feeling was fighter pilots were circling us continuously. We knew that there wasn't going to be anybody get to us with that kind of ...
And then you'd see to the left and the right ships that were moving in. But then as you get closer for miles and miles and miles looking to the left were ships of every kind in the world and to the right the same way. And you could hear the tremendous boom of the big war ships and you could see them hitting on the beaches and so forth. And there wasn't much reason to get excited or fearful where we were outside and looking going in. But all of a sudden you're right at the beach and then you find out about anti-aircraft fire and you find out about small arms fire.
One thing about gliders at the altitude that we had to go in and set a pattern from, they could take whatever weapon they had, a .45 automatic and you could just about hit a glider. And so, we were getting fire from all sections. And that's when you separate the men from the boys. You don't dare fail to pull your chain for your release of tow off of the rope because the orders of the power pilots is if they get past a certain point, you turn them loose. Well, you don't want a rope tied around you and falling and hitting. So, there's no trouble in getting people to get off that tow when they could.
And so, the pilots were constantly looking and gauging about where we was going to get the green light and seeing what kind of fields they were. Every once in a while you'd see a good field, but when you did, you'd find 10 gliders already taken it. So, you got to fight for a position when you got down. And the entrance of where I landed, I landed in an apple orchard, but I had set a very good 270-degree pattern. But I looked off to my right and there was three gliders coming right into me and they were getting it for themselves. And you're not going to purposely hit one of your buddies, but you can fill the air in a hurry. So, I instead did 180-degree pattern and saw an apple orchard and I knew that those were not real bad trees to hit and set a pattern using all the flaps that I had and had it in a slip. And the idea is to slip right over the top of these 60, 70-feet trees and straighten out and land your glider before it hits the embankments and the trees on the other side.
Well, I was coming in too high. I knew I couldn't stop it on the other side and I'd never used a deceleration chute and I called for it and it brought us right down and settled. And I scraped a few apple trees. As long as I had some speed, I threw one wig up and done me trying to save. It did no harm whatsoever. But well, it scratched some of the stuff, but the glider was in pretty good shape. And then you start getting out of that glider because in those hedgerows and with all of the cover they've got, the enemy is already sitting there waiting for you and you're right out in the middle. And one of the hardest things that I had to face when I landed, we all hit the hedgerows in a hurry. There was a little German hiding from us. He was as worried as we were. And when he saw three or four of us coming to him there, I guess he thought we was after him. We didn't see him then. But he started running and it wasn't me. I tried to shoot him with a .45 automatic pistol that was a sidearm we carried. And I'd never did hit him, but one of the paratroopers did get him down the line.
But that goes to show you, when you get on the ground, the worst problem you've got is recognize if these are them or if these are us and you got in a hedgerow yourself and you get yourself solidified there. But you can look three or four different directions and you can see men moving. Are they your men or are they theirs?
On landing, we were all together except this one kid. And he wasn't hurt bad, he left with them and I'm sure he got attention, but you started looking for your group. You were scattered a pretty good distance because they took what fields. But things have a way of pulling together. You see somebody and you say, "Have you seen so and so?" And finally we've got together. Now, we had commanding officer of the glider pilots who was a captain named Captain Kirkpatrick. And he was one that made the decisions of when we move and when we don't, unless we went out on a reconnaissance of our own and then one of us would take over what we did. So, we were pretty well trained about how to join any outfit on other missions.
I actually joined units, but in Normandy when they had given us the orders to try to keep close the right of ways down to the beach because about 10 miles in it was under water. I don't remember whether it was intentional flooding or what, but there were bridges across these causeways and they wanted us to see that the Germans did not get across those bridges there. So, we had Germans behind us. It was already working against our landing forces, but we had them behind us that was trying to get to the beach for counterattacks.
And so, there's a way you get together and sometimes you might not be with your group whatsoever. You maybe have to find a buddy that's a glider pilot that you didn't know. But when you do things together it's always good to find a friend in a situation because it gets awful lonely after you turn loose to that tow.
The first action we got into there was a lot of sniping going on. So, we broke out from our area and went certain distances away and came back. We stayed the first night, not too far from this location dug in. We had one German tank that went down our road and they had given us, I think they called it a jelly bomb or something. None of us knew how, but the idea is you throw it and it hits a tank or an artillery, it'll catch fire and it'll keep burning. But we were told not to use those unless we had orders. Well, sure enough, this tank came through and we were all along there and we let it go. And sure enough, we saw the reason why is down the road we heard two or three big blasts and we had carried in 75 millimeter howitzers and 57 millimeter anti-tank guns and I don't know which, but they got the German tank that's going through. But then daybreak right at us, there were several people killed. There was one Horsa glider that I counted 10 men lined up with parachutes over them. So, I know that there was that many fatalities in that one and it was right in our field zone.
Buck Lindsey, a very courageous man from Fort Worth, Texas was the first man we had killed. We knew we had to face it, but you're not ever really ready for that type thing. And some of them, I try to give an example, which may not be appropriate on this, but I was impressed with the new movie Finding Private Ryan. And it was the most realistic of anything that I have seen about actual airborne combat. And two of the missions especially I was in situations it was like, and that was the first mission in the last mission. But in any event, we stayed together and we were to stay until the ground troops got to us. And I believe it was a truck that had supplies moved in. And of course everybody was hollering real good because they hadn't seen anybody coming from that.
But, when we talk about the regular infantry and how they took it, and I've explained how they had fear, but they would joke but there was no hesitancy once we hit the ground and in combat. And their answer was, "You want to go with us, you can to stay." Well, they were just three or four men with all the ammunition and so forth. And they had no need of something that we had learned and done because I'd got them in there safe and sound. But you start finding a place to locate. And it might be you set up a frontal attack, you dig in, you stay there with maybe 50 other soldiers up and down the road. I've explained to you some of our dug in and I don't know who gave us the order, but we was losing men at this crossroad at Les Forges, there's four or five hit and there's no way you could look and see where the sniper was.
So, oh, there's about 15 of us volunteered and moved slowly toward a house and a barn and I don't know which one of the 15, but one of them spotted him and got him. So, it was things like that that you don't know what's going to happen. You have to be prepared to meet whatever the situation occurs. And, like I said, when we first landed and we found out where the Germans were, we did a lot of digging and a lot of firing then. And it might be a hundred, 150 yards away, but we knew the movement in there was Germans. But it takes you a while to find out and you're not about to shoot. You think you fixing to hit one of your own men.
No, I was not surprised. It was what I expected was going to see, because we knew what glider was happen. We lost some that were forced landings in the States and if they hit a tree head-on, it's going to tear up. They're flying anywhere from 60 to 140 miles an hour when they make these landings. So, I was not shocked. I was a little shocked when I told you about this particular Horsa glider because I had checked out the Horsa in England, but I really didn't want to fly it in. And it just happened that this one hit and it was a crash. It wasn't the enemy that did it. He hit one of these tall trees and that Horsa glider was made out of some kind of wood and it was just splintered all over and there was only 10 or 11 there.
So, I kept hoping and praying that some of them got out and was in a field hospital or something. But you have to keep right in that area. You've got to stay where the objective is until somebody can get them out. And that is a very sad thing to be that close to a bunch of deceased persons. And sometimes they were our own and that's what hurt an awful lot. But they can't immediately in combat set up a field unit or they can't get people with deceased bags that they put them in of our own. They had to wait until they could get there.
And so, you're right with it the whole time until you start out. And I don't ever remember anybody coming and picking up these British from that area. They probably did and I just got away from my mind. But I just know at night I'd think about them. I knew where Buck was, I knew where several of our people were and there's nothing we could do except …
So, you have a bad, bad feeling when you're in that and it doesn't go away. All of the other drops I made, it was just the same. Just wasn't as bad as this one and the one across the Rhine River.
We don't know whether they're going to take that beach or not. And we had very little communications, but when it came, then we started moving our way out toward the beach, but we'd have to stop and dig foxholes and fight a counterattack or there's crossing the roads. We had a lot of experiences like that. And I believe it was the end of the third day we got back to the beach and lay out on the beach. They had done such a magnificent job of hanging balloons up above and what have you, whatever attacks we had and we had some bombing coming on and it was from a high altitude and we had fighters, believe it or not, up there at night trying to find them.
When we got back to the beaches from Normandy, our orders was to get back to the bases as quick as we could. And we did. We had some men that were emotionally disturbed pretty bad. Just a short while after that, we went in June the 6th and sometime in July they gave those of us that were on the first mission the chance to go on the next mission. But they didn't tell us where it was. And I think I mentioned earlier that we got on a plane and they told us when we got in the air that we were going to an invasion of Southern France. And if you read much of the history of that, well, it was one of the strategies to also have a massive frontal attack from down in the Mediterranean plus this. And they'd close together. We had several interesting stops. Casablanca, Algiers, Oran, Tunis, on the way we'd get into the town or just sightseers. The worrying part hadn't started. And we were going to Grosseto, Italy, which is not too far northwest of Rome on the coast. And we trained some down there with gliders that had been shipped there and put together. And you understand these gliders would be sent in boxes and they had to be put together by glider mechanics and you wanted to be sure that he was on your side because that's where your life and death is.
But anyhow, we got ready for the mission in Southern France and the responsibility for us there was to move inland. It ended up being 17 miles inland and have a holding action, again, from the Germans that was being pushed from the coast to us.
When we went in, it was a very calm flight as we hit the beaches or close to the beaches, I guess it was close to San Rafael or Caen or Nice, we were getting from anti-aircraft fire. But, relatively speaking, there was not any problem with that. I was in a lead glider and come to my drop zone and there wasn't any question we could identify it and it was a large grape vineyard.
Now, we're on going in mountains and they're pretty much close in the side. As a result, when I broke loose from the tow to make a 270-degree pattern, when I reached the last leg before turning into the grape vineyard, I was so close to the mountains that it was just like you're seeing something right in your lap. The wing, like it's laying on top of these mountains in dirt and then you make your last stop because it's still going down.
And in these fields, an interesting thing happened. I knew my landing was okay and no problem. And of course one of the first things you do on a normal tow is to push your nose forward and let it dig in and pull the brakes. But sounded like all hell had broken loose. So, when I hit those vines and all I could do, I could see is chewing up the nose of my glider and I pulled my feet up and told the co-pilot, he was one of the infantry, he wasn't a pilot, to get your feet up. And we just rode it out that way. And we had been running through steel stakes and it was my opinion all along then that this was something that the Germans had put in there because going in, we saw some of the fields are going to be landed and we had the poles that was put in the fields and you know you just couldn't get through those poles. It's going to be ... But we did, we managed to get down and many, many people were hurt and killed in that type field.
But in ours, I was told that those grapevines were very heavy and said it could be trunks of that that we were hitting or I don't know what else. But I walked out of the front of my glider. On that mission, we carried four American Japanese with us and they were really the calmest troops that I dealt with anywhere. I mean, everything worked to perfection that, when we got unplugged from the top, all of the part that was still remaining went up as the Jeep went out and they were on their way. We did not have too bad a time when we originally, we lost one man the first afternoon. Our group lost several on landings and we made our way up to a little manor house that was General Frederick's headquarters. General Frederick was in command of the whole air invasion. And he had just taken over the manor house and there was quite a bit of activity when we got there and we were not going any further that day. And so, they put me to work with some GIs that were searching all of the prisoners that was down below us.
There's a funny story with this, if you don't mind hearing it. As I sat there, a chicken run by me and I reached over and grabbed the chicken and everybody thought I was crazy because I wrung his neck. And when I did, a little French lady from that manor house come out just as hard as she could go. And she was talking up a storm and it was a light colonel standing next door and he said, "Lieutenant, you better give her something. We got to get along with these people." So, I reached in my escape kit and got what must have been a hundred francs, I don't know, it was a hundred something. And she was satisfied. She went back in the house.
40 years later, I carried my wife and a friend of mine who was in the 36th Division into Europe to try to go to each one of the landing areas that I landed. And he was going to get where the 36th landing down in Southern France. And we was going to follow his route of the 36 up as far as it went. Well, I didn't know too much where we were going down there, but we luckily bumped into an Englishman that could give us all the information and he said, "It's up the road here. You'll find it." Well, I was riding along and looked to my right and there was a large placard and paid tribute to the American troops for the liberation of Southern France, August the 15th, 1944, General Frederick's headquarters. And I said, "Well, good lord. That's where I was." And I looked the other way. I said, "I guarded prisoners right down below. And that's where I killed that woman's chicken." Well, about that time, a soldier come walking down the cobblestone way right in front. And I stopped and I said, "Monsieur Lasan," the name Lasan was on the front of the place. He said, "Oh no. Monsieur Lasan is dead." I said, "Madam Lasan?" "Oui, oui." I said, "Go ask her to come out here." And he went in. And it must have been five minutes and I hear this shuffling of feet in front of me and here come a little gray haired lady, all bent over. But after 40 years, I'm back with the lady who I killed her chicken. And when we finally got over to her about it, she said, "Oh, oui, oui." And she's pointing, "You, me?" And I was saying, "Yes. It was me."
So, we had what conversation we might have and we got pictures of her sitting and talking and it was a great event for me. Now, I didn't intend to get into that, but it's an interesting story, I think.
Well, this one we were some 65 miles and Market Garden going into Holland on that invasion. And about 65 miles behind the enemy lines and Montgomery had the theory, whether it was right or wrong, that if we'd take all the bridges along there and get the Arnhem bridge that we had been in Berlin before Christmas. We carried many, many gliders and men and it was a lot of people today, and you saw One Bridge Too Far and know something about it, talked about it being a failure. I've never thought it was a failure. We didn't get across the Arnhem Bridge, but we did commence the freedom of both Holland and Belgium, which they were freed not long after that.
Going back to it, I landed in this and we had a lot of flak when we left the coast and my pilot, I had a telephone to him and he said, "What are we going to do with this flak?" I said, "Get right on the deck and stay there till we got the landings on," because they were shooting a lot of gliders and planes down, too. And we got down right over the treetops and luckily he got it up just before we hit the IP. And when we got to the landing field, it was a great big field. Nobody could miss it. And so, we had an uneventful landing, everything was fine.
I had a first lieutenant as a co-pilot who was an infantry captain. And I had a squad of men, his men, they were all men, too. And I had told him when we took off, "If anything happens to me, just drive this thing down, point it toward a field and just try to keep it up at least 70 miles an hour," because they won't really stall out too much up there. Well, he listened real good.
We hit the landing. There was a lot of artillery, 88s were hitting in the field, but there was no small arm fire, although I landed within 200 yards of the Reichswald Forest, which was the boundary line into Germany. We immediately got out of there and he went on his way with his men. And as a side note, that same day, he was shot bad and had to be taken home, never did… And by accident, I found him years later up at a convention and had lunch with he and his wife.
But we made our way to an observation post where we were. And we started doing anything we could. There wasn't any immediate German troops, but it was an awful lot of artillery. And we immediately took over some prisoners and carried them to a prison of war scene that was deep inside some forest, but we didn't get there. We got during the night and the Germans along roadside had dug embankments, holes in there and that was to store food. But we moved the prisoners in there and there must have been a hundred of them and every one of them was full of prisoners. And there's two of us standing guard. Now you're talking about something that can be hair-raising is to not be able to see, and yet you're standing there, two men against 15 and you can't sleep. You can't do anything. But they have well knew with the Tommy guns that was pinned on them that they'd all lose if they started out. I went back several years later and those holes are still in the side of that road.
I did that for the first or second or third day. And then myself and two others were trying to work our way to a certain area and we went into Mook, Holland and went into the town. And when we got there, all devil broke loose and it was a German tank coming into the town. And I was up on the second floor of a building that was there. And when this tank started shooting, I jumped out of the second floor, messed my ankles up real bad, both of them. And I crawled mostly down a cobblestone street that they also dumped their gutter there. It was an unpleasant experience, but I knew something was wrong on my feet.
And finally I made my way to a hospital. A field hospital had been set up not too far from there and I had sort of sprained my ankles and I still have some clotted blood areas of that, but they taped it all around and I stayed in there two days until German planes were strafing us so bad and there was a big red cross. You'd see if but it didn't make them any difference.
Then, I worked my way down a little bit. One of the most interesting things, we were in different fights. One night we spent with an artillery unit around it. So, we dug in and we got word that the Germans were breaking through at the Reichswald Forest. Should I tell you, to us go and handle that. We held that for a while and then one of my friends, two of them captured a German motorcycle, and four of us made our way from there down into France at Lyons. And they said, "Go there and they'll tell you where our base is."
As you see, we had dropped from Holland, from England, but our base was going to leave while we were over there in combat. And so, we got on this German motorcycle and we drove through Holland and Belgium and France stopping. Sometimes the Germans would break in that line. I told you it was 65 miles. And they'd break that line and we'd stop and enter combat with the rest of the troops that was there until we could get through and we'd go on. We actually were 18 days getting back. And when we got in, well, we got a report on those that made it okay. And it was a very rewarding experience.
How to judge it as compared to the other missions because of the ease in landing and very few crashes. And because of where we actually were, and most of the action in Holland was going on at Arnhem, which was 10 miles away from us. And that's where the heavy fighting was going on. We didn't get in on any of that except one or two of the villages like Mook. We had some immediate action, but outside of that we was finding our way home mostly. And we drove that motorcycle all that way back to our base. And when I left over there, well, they were still riding that German motorcycle around the base and using it.
We moved into a base at Dreux, France and moved into some tents that they'd set up there where we spent the rest of our time on a fixed base and we had no more missions as such, with the exception of about 40 gliders. And I take my hat off to them more than anything in the world, but somewhere close to Christmas, about 40 gliders went into Bastogne and you can imagine they were carrying gasoline and shells in. And they went through a tremendous thing from the do, but was very successful in it.
But we had no major drops then until they had to be the attack across the Rhine River. That was the important thing on the Holland drop was to get across the Rhine River because they could make their way into Berlin in a hurry if they did that.
And so, we got ready to go on this mission recognizing that it was going to be a bad mission. Montgomery was in charge of that drop in that area and they were going to build pontoon bridges. So, I guess for three or four days before we went in, he had a tremendous smoke floating down the Rhine, so you couldn't see and, which was a good thing for him, but it wasn't very good for us. And we had no events, no problem going in. We knew that the landing fields were going to be pretty easy, but it ended up being one of the toughest missions that I was in.
In the first place, my co-pilot must have lost his nerve a little bit because getting us in either six or 800 feet, which you can make a standard ... When they started firing, which was time we hit the river, the eye was completely covered with anti-aircraft and flak everywhere and smoke. And he kept easing up, up, up until we were up at 2,500 feet and there really wasn't any way to know where our field was. But I did some estimating and those that were following along with me, they did the same thing. And finally we got a certain distance and I cut loose.
Well, instead of making a 90-degree landing or 360 degree or what have you, I went into a spiral right straight down because I had to get where I could see the ground and where we were going. And by luck, when I broke out, which must have been 300 feet, I didn't see my field, but I saw a good field and that's when you use your common sense. And I went into it. Here again, we got an awful lot of holes in the sides of the glider and the wings and what have you from flak, but we didn't have anybody hurt in the air.
I was carrying on that mission another jeep, and we didn't get them out at first. We run for a house that was close by, because some hundred yards to my right and it would be, I think, east of where I landed, the Germans were behind a tall embankment that a railroad track was on and they were strafing our field just everywhere. I don't know how we got to this house without being hurt. We were there for a while and I don't remember how long and finally it slowed down, but we do know that some of our artillery was already laying shots in there on them, and I think that that's what knocked them out. Then we run back. Well, no, it wasn't either completely at that time. I had to run back with them to the glider and try to get that jeep out, and something happened with the mechanism to where it wasn't getting out.
So, we all helped each other get the glider tail up and I was sitting there holding it. Once you got it, because of the balance that's in them, I could hold it easily myself. And when I did from the same embankment over there and I'm sure it's where it came from, I got hit in this right ham of my hand. Well, they already had the glider out. So, I dropped it and I immediately ... It had a pretty good cut. I couldn't tell whether it was a fragment of the metal that I was holding or whether it was what it was. But I cleaned it up with sulfa and went on. It had no effect on me whatsoever being able to do what I was supposed to do.
Then we had some awful heavy fighting because you all may have read and know of the SS troops made that one of its areas where they stopped last, and they didn't give up easy. I had a power pilot that went in with me as a co-pilot and I just said, "I can't tell you what to do and how to do, but you get in one of these holes and you stay." And we immediately set out for our command post that was still held by SS troops and it was about six or eight of us and we spent most of an afternoon getting those people out of there. They wouldn't give up. And finally all of them but one or two were killed in the house, they just gradually moved up to get it. But they're very tough boys. And we were filling every window we had full of shells and moving up as we did and finally got close enough to one or two if somebody went to the front door and some of them ran and got away, but not many of them did.
That night we moved into a triangular shaped piece of ground and you all may have heard of Burp Gun Corner. That was where there was a fantastic night battle between our troops and German troops that were trying to make their way through us to get on into Germany. I know that it was a terrible battle and they were awarded recently, incidentally, for that battle. But we went into a triangular-shaped group of woods and it was surrounded by anti-aircraft guns and we thought this would be good. They already got a perimeter set up around us and we can dig in and get a little rest because we'd been in pretty heavy combat all afternoon and we dug in in the middle of the night, all hell broke loose. And it must have been the remnants of Burp Gun Corner because we had Germans through the trees. It was a moonlight night and you wouldn't think you'd see very well, but we could see them moving everywhere.
We had a man named Jack Latel who lives out in Colorado, I think one of the most courageous men I've ever known in my life. And he looked like a Rambo. When I raised up and it started, he was just covering with that Tommy gun. Another one, Frank Perley, who's dead now, bless his heart, he shot a German through and through and then reached out and pulled him over and doctored him all night and everybody else tell him to kill that man, but he wouldn't do it and he probably died later. I was firing a carbine everywhere I possibly could. They all had potato mashers is what we called our grenades. And they threw one or two of those, but it didn't go into our holes and it was all right and it finally died almost everything.
Well, we were sitting there on aid for an hour and talking among ourselves from foxhole to foxhole and finally I said, "Jack, y'all keep me covered. I'm going to see if those guys are dead," because you can see them laying out there all over, about 10 or 11 of them. And I checked them all and they were gone. Got back in and the next morning we worked our way out again bringing prisoners. We must have had 5,000 prisoners coming out of Western Germany when we come to the river and backed up and that was my last mission. I got to come home not too long after that.
I don't think there'll ever be another war just like it. We all know that, with the atom bomb and what have you, has changed warfare a great deal. For some 15 years after I got out of the service, I didn't want to talk to anybody about it. In fact, when I got home, I got all my family and she's now my wife and told them, "You ask me anything you want now and I'll tell you anything you want to know, and then I don't want to ever hear of it again." And I did that and I still do it now. And I've been more emotional in the last year or two because I keep get flashbacks of things that happened and very dear, wonderful friends.
I would explain to you about that, friends, and I do it this way: I've been a man in my life that's been in politics and had to have a lot of friends. I had high school friends, college friends, fraternity brothers, and all of the civic work that I've done, but I never put them close to the category that I do of those glider pilots that was with me. And I never can forget their lives, and what they gave to this country. Courage that you would never believe. We've got some men here now this day that can tell you stories. It's unbelievable. And for that reason, I'm so glad that you are doing what you're doing because somebody needs to really know the story.
They voluntarily gave their lives to make this country free and to make it what it is today. And I don't think any of them would take from it regardless. That's the reason we have such a strong group of glider pilots that meet once a year and get together. And we don't tell too many war stories, believe it or not, but we know what each one of us has done and what they went through and it's always a wonderful time to get back together.
The sad thing is to see that 50 of us last year are not here this year. I don't know whether that's the type thing you're interested in as far as being legendary, but it is was a fascinating experience, a memorable experience. I saw the good and I saw the bad, but as I've said before, if it had to happen, I wouldn't take anything for the opportunity of being with it and in it and a part of it.
There is an award given to glider pilots that might tell you better than anything else, but it's a bronze arrowhead and nobody in the air ever got it except us and not too many soldiers, but it's given to those that led the march and made the front and were the first ones in. And I've got four arrowheads. And what I did was, I think, one of the most important things that you could possibly do, a part of it. For instance, D-Day and Normandy, there's no doubt in my mind that if it was not for the airborne troops that we went in and the things we did in Normandy, they had never taken Utah Beach. They could never have taken it. And then I can take every one of the missions just like it in Southern France, it wasn't as obvious, but we did our job of holding the German troops back in this valley until the ground troops could come and take them prisoner.
I go into Holland, which I could talk to you forever about the things that happened in Holland, but let one of us go to Groesbeek, Holland or to anywhere else in Holland or into Belgium, and they find out that you're a glider pilot or that you're a paratrooper and man, they can't be too good to you. They were freed. They were a perfect example of freedom from that country, which is the same type freedom that I felt we were doing for our own country. And they remembered and they believe it.
And then when I go into West Germany, there's not any question that when we put that bridge across to add to the bridge that was taken by accident down south. If you look at it, the war ended, wasn't too long about it. So, I think that we have made our place in history and people are very wonderful about accepting our place when they understand what it was. I have made speeches to high school kids many, many years telling them about the war and about freedom and about my role in the war and where we went. And they are absolutely spellbound when they do. So, I'm doing for you today what you'll be doing when you tell the story is I'm seeing that Buck Lindsey is remembered and that he died for all of us.
That was 2nd LT Harry Loftis.
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