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Brigadier General James M. Gavin

82nd Airborne Division

Utah Beach

 

The green light went on at about the instance several of the ships appeared out of the fog, closing in on us. After about a 3 second delay we went out, small-arms fire was coming up from the ground when the chute opened--just general shooting all over the area. Off to the right of the line of flight there was considerable apparent gunfire and flak. I figured that it probably was in the vicinity of Etienville, where there was supposed to be located the only known heavy AA installations in the area. A lot of firing was seen straight in the line of flight - tracers going into the air - several miles away. I landed in an orchard, joined my aide who landed nearby (Lieutenantt Olson) and proceeded to "roll up the stick" as per plan, arriving on the edge of a wide swamp where I found the remaining men of my stick who were endeavouring to retrieve equipment bundles from the deep mud and marsh. At this time parachutists were seen descending, landing in the swamp and on the banks. After collecting my stick, I found that several men had been injured during the landing, and two hit during descent. About 20 minutes after reaching the marsh, a red assembly light showed on the far bank. A few minutes thereafter a blue assembly light showed to the South of the red light several hundred yards. I sent Lt. Olson at once to direct all the men that he could contact to report to me in my location. As it happened, the blue light was the 508 light--the red one of the 507 lights. Close-in security was posted. The Germans took no aggressive action, despite the fact that they were obviously in the area since there had been considerable firing during the descent. The river bank was well dug with slit trenches and prepared gun positions. Men from the 507 began arriving. Within two hours, about 150 men were assembled - all 507 except my own stick, and about one plane load of 508. Lt. Olson reported that there was a railroad embankment on the far side of the swamp, and that it was passable for foot troops. We decided that we were on the Merderet River since it was the only river with marshes and with a railroad running North and South alongside of it. Prior to this point, I had estimated that we must be on the Douve because of the depth and width of the water. Our pre-operational photo interpretation had rather clearly established the fact that the Merderet was a narrow stream, about 20 yards wide and several feet deep. The value of the Merderet river as an anti-tank obstacle had been carefully studied. The river bank was surrounded by marsh land, covered with grass which on the fringes was used for grazing. Actually, it developed that the grass was swamp grass several feet long, which showed above the water and concealed the wide expanse of flooded area from the photo interpreter. Heavy firing was seen in the direction of what was thought to be Ste Mere Eglise. At about 0430, Colonel Maloney and Colonel Ostberg, of the 507th, with about 150 men, had reported to me, and I decided to move as soon as possible to seize the West end of the La Fiere bridge. I considered it necessary to accomplish this before daylight because of the impracticability of fighting through the swamps, of which there were several, in the face of any German automatic weapons. Steps were taken to get the force organized for movemont, but in a few minutes two gliders landed about 400 yards West of our position. By this time I had definitely decided that we were on the West bank of the Merderet River several miles North of La Fiere. It had been reported to me that Colonel Linquist had moved down the railroad with about 100 men towards La Fiere. Some individuals were still coming in. Everyone who was not on security was working at retrieving bundles from the swamp. I managed to get one bazooka and a few rounds of ammunition. All other heavy equipment and radios were then in the swamp water or impossible to get to. The glider landings appeared most fortuitous, and steps were taken to get the equipment out of them. With luck it would be a 57mm AT gun, which would come in very handy. At this time gliders were going overhead moving in the direction of Ste Mere Eglise. All indications tended to more clearly establish our estimated location as being correct. In order to retrieve the contents of the gliders, the move South was temporarily delayed while patrols were sent to the gliders. Lt. Graham was placed in charge of those patrols. Lt. Graham returned in about a half hour stating that he needed at least 30 men. One glider contained a "57", and one a jeep. They had landed in a marsh and it was very difficult to extricate the gun and vehicle. Some German small arms fire was being received in the vicinity of the gliders at this time. Lt. Col. Maloney was instructed to make the men available to Lt. Graham. About a half hour later Lt. Graham returned and stated that he couldn't get the men, couldn't get out the equipment with the men he had, and that the German fire was increasing. I accompanied him to the hedge along the field containing the gliders where the fire was building up with considerable intensity. With some difficulty additional men were obtained and finally either the gun or jeep, I forget which now, was removed only to become impossibly bogged in the swampy bottom. At my direction Lt. Graham destroyed the jeep and removed part of the breach mechanism of the "57"mm. It was just barely possible to do this, since the German Force was becoming increasingly aggressive. It was now broad daylight. It was about 6 or 6:30 a.m. The degree of enemy build-up and his attitude made the possibility of moving down the West bank at this time appear impracticable, and I decided to move to the railroad embankment and move in the direction of La Fiere, and there pick up all who could be found from the 508, contact the 505, and attack the bridge from the East side. Orders were issued, and the movement started across the marsh. The movement started and contact was established with the 1st Battalion, 505th, under the command of Major Kellam, at La Fiere.

(This statement was dictated on 1944, August 16th at Hos., 82d A/B Division)(Courtesy: National Archives)