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Staff Sergeant Mike N. Ingrisano, Jr

37th Troop Carrier Squadron - 316th Troop Carrier Group

Utah Beach

 

By June 3, all personnel were restricted to the base. We, in turn, continued to our chores, flying routine in-country missions, and aircraft transitional training flights. When the word came down that the D-Day mission was imminent, the briefings began for pilots, co-pilots, navigators, and radio operators. Crew chiefs spent their time fine tuning their planes for peak performance. Then when the mission was confirmed, final briefings were held early in the day of 5 June. All hands had previously turned out to paint the "war stripes" on every plane. Each plane was painted with five alternating foot-wide stripes, three white and two black on each wing and on the fuselage between the rear door and tail section. This bold, visual identifier for all Allied planes was meant to safeguard against the possibility of any being shot down by "friendly fire'-shades of Sicily!

We needed then to care for the inner man. As far as I can recall, no chaplain had been appointed to replace Captain Richert. So we went to the Station Chapel, and each man worshipped in his own faith. The Catholics, like myself, were denied the sanctity of confession and penance. I have always recalled that not out of bitterness but as a feeling of emptiness that I may not had been prepared to face death as I had been taught. The final "go" was given by General Eisenhower, after a one-day postponement for weather, for 5-6 June. The airborne troops were already at the planes doing their pre-flight readiness when we arrived at approximately 2130 hours. We were met by public relations types (from our Intelligence Office) who handed us a copy of Eisenhower’s "Great Crusade" leaflet. I folded my copy, unread, and put it into my flight suit.

Boarded my aircraft with my gear which I put into the flight deck compartment which was right behind the co-pilot's position and just in front of my position. This gear consisted mainly of our clumsy seat-pack parachutes and arms which for the enlisted men were M-1 carbines. We also carried gas masks and escape kits, and a water-filled canteen on our ammunition belts. All personal identification, save our "dog tags", were left in our quarters.

We were also clothed in leggings, and steel helmets, and were provided with flak jackets, which I chose to place on my seat rather than to wear on my body. My reasoning was to protect myself from any incoming fire from underneath the plane.

Once those chores were done, the crew chief and I went back out of the plane to boost those overloaded paratroopers up the three steps into the cabin. The rear door had previously been taken off, and the hinged areas on both sides had been taped to prevent any trooper snagging his chute as he left the plane. The crew chief remained in the back of the plane to work with the jumpmaster, while I assumed my position on the flight deck.

Lift off by the 44th Squadron was at 2300 hours. The last plane from the 36th Squadron was off by 2320. My plane was in the fifth flight, where we flew on the right wing of leader. Our target was drop zone "O" [DZ] just slightly northwest of Ste Mere Eglise. After forming into three ship vees and three vees to a flight, we headed for France. The flight was rather uneventful. But as we approached the coast of France, by craning my neck to the left, I was able to see out of the front wind screen. I saw a solid wall of light in which were embedded puffs of black smoke. (Flak and small arms fire, I guessed, never having before seen such a sight.)

Because of radio silence, my chores were quite limited. So I moved across the aisle to the navigator's usual position because there was no opening where I could look out from my position.. Since only the lead plane in each flight had a navigator on board, that area on our plane was vacant. There was a small opening, approximately eighteen inches long and four to six inches high, which the navigator used for dead reckoning. That is, viewing the ground for known site locations, railroad tracks, highways, etc. When I looked down and out, I could see the vast armada sitting off the coast. Then I was astonished to see a woman, dressed in a white gown, sitting on our left wing tip. I immediately recognized she as my fiancée. She turned toward me, smiled, and said: "Mike, don't worry. You'll be OK." With that she disappeared.

We continued on our flight toward Ste. Mere Eglise. From overlays I have found in my research, my pilots estimated that we dropped our stick of troopers just slightly off to the northwest of the DZ. After dropping our troops, I helped the crew chief to push out a 75-mm piece that we were carrying, and then helped him to pull the shroud lines into the plane to minimize drag.

Mike Ingrisano