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Colonel William Ekman

82nd Airborne Division - 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment

Utah Beach

 

I have nothing much to add about the ride over, except the 1st Battalion Commander, Major Kellum, not being here, being KIA, I can give his story. Regimental Headquarters and the 1st Bn. got in the planes, and just about five or six minutes prior to taking off a huge explosion occurred. Someone had set off a Gammon Grenade which in turn set off all the ammunition. I was initiated into combat that way. I saw a lot of dead bodies lying around after the explosion. Our ride over was uneventful except for the ack-ack which came pretty close to our planes. Jumping out after going through the clouds, I bailed out at about 0204 hrs. according to my watch. I had a very hard opening, because we were going at least 150 miles per hour. I do not remember the landing because I was pretty dazed. I was in the midst of a field of cattle when I landed. No other personnel was around me. It took me about ten minutes to get out of my chute. I found out later that I had landed just a few hundred yards South of Fresville, which is well Northeast of Ste Mere Eglise. I started out and the first man I met was Major Thomas of the 508th, and he was treating a few men who were injured. I wandered around still dazed for about two hours. Just before four o'clock I ran across Major Norton, and we debated about where we were. About this time we found a Frenchman and from him we got the direction to the town and found that there were a number of Germans there. We started out to our area and on the way we ran into the 1st Bn. under Major Kellum, heading toward the bridge and his area. "A" Company had very speedily organized and was already engaging the enemy just East of the bridge near Ste Mere Eglise. Rest of the 1st Bn. continued on their mission to get on to the assembly area, they being the Regtl. Reserve. We went further towards the CP and ran into the 2nd Bn. At that time, the situation being a bit obscure, we told Lt. Col. Vandervoort to stand fast until further orders. At the location of the CP was Gen. Ridgway, and we speedily established the CP. It was a little after seven o'clock when I heard that the 3rd Bn. was in Ste Mere Eglise, that the 2nd Bn. was moving toward their objective, and that the 1st Bn. was well down toward the bridge. The situation was well in hand. Later on the 2nd Bn. fell back into Ste Mere Eglise and with the 3rd Bn. organized for the defense of the town against superior enemy forces which were attacking from the North, Northwest and South. When action in Ste Mere Eglise ended, these two units were all mixed up due to the speed with which they had to move to meet enemy threats.

(On the evening of Thursday, 13 August 1944, a debriefing conference was held at the Glebe Mount House, LEICESTER. During the course of the conference each commander present who had commanded a unit the size of a battalion or larger of the 82d Airborne Division in Operation NEPTUNE, was permitted to talk for not to exceed ten minutes. Instructions were that each officer was to speak freely, without restraint, regarding any aspect of the operation during its airborne phase and to offer any criticism he saw fit in the interests of improving our operational technique in future combat. Commanders spoke in the order in which it was planned that they would land. Their statements were taken down verbatim as far as possible. )

Courtesy: National Archives