We stand on the backs of their sacrifice; Their history is our tradition as long as there are Americans to remember...
My name is Marvin Hubert Allen. My friends call me Hubert and I prefer to be called that. I grew up at Boyce, but moved to Waxahachie after the 9th grade where I played football for the Indians.
After our country got into the war, I volunteered to be a paratrooper. We trained at Camp Toccoa, which was located in northern Georgia. Our days were filled with physical training, “PT” they call it.
At night we went on forced marches, and then there was the obstacle course that must have been laid out by some very sadistic officer. As our C.O. expanded it to us, “My purpose here is to acquaint you with a well of energy which you have never tapped before in your life.”
I was in the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment, and there was this mountain there called Currahee. It was the most prominent landmark on the base and we ran it up and down, three miles up, three miles down. Our regiment trained so hard that the mountain run became relatively easy for us.
We went to jump school at Fort Benning, Georgia, learning the Army way to jump from a perfectly good airplane. I really enjoyed the jumping for the most part. There was much time spent on the 34 foot tower. It was fun in the daylight but a little intimidating up there at night.
I had to learn how to pack my own parachute, and learn all the correct terminology. There were risers, static lines, suspension lines and other things. Using the wrong terms would get you ten pushups for every instructor within earshot. If you couldn’t learn to talk the talk, your pushup muscle would build up real fast.
Later we moved to an Army air base at Alliance, Nebraska and became part of the 1st Airborne Brigade. We trained there for another six months, taking many flights over the countryside in those C-47 transport planes. Nice country here in western Nebraska, lots of ranches and farmland. These folks here sure know how to bring in a good crop.
That summer our regiment made a practice jump and mock-attacked the Municipal Airport at Denver, with thousands of civilians looking on. That was an interesting experience, kind of fun actually.
In September of ’43 we bivouacked on a lake at the Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota. It was really nice there, although a little cold. I could see myself coming back to this place some day, without a doubt. This was to be our last fling before we were going to be deployed overseas.
I sat there under the starry skies of South Dakota and thought about a lot of things. I have just been through months of intense training, and among other things I was now skilled in the ways of killing my fellow man. I wondered about what it would really be like to be in actual combat, man-to-man combat. There were doubts in my mind if I would really be able to pull the trigger on someone when the time came… Right now I sure feel a long way from home.
That November we boarded a train and headed for New York. After a few days at Camp Shanks near Orangeburg, New York, we marched four miles to Piermont Pier. Everyone was in good spirits; there was a lot of chatter in the ranks. I guess every group has its bigmouths, we sure did. We loaded onto a ferry headed for the port of New York. We were on our way now, and this whole business was getting very real.
We boarded a passenger liner at the port of New York and steamed out into the Atlantic past the Statue of Liberty. That was really quite a moment for us all. It was some sight, as I had had never seen such a thing before. It was December 5th, 1943.
On the North Atlantic crossing there was a lot of talk of the possibility of U-boats. Lots of the fellows kept busy losing their money with card games, but I liked going topside and watching the sunsets.
To be continued
Several days later we arrived at Liverpool, and I for one was glad to be back on solid ground.
We took a train north to Greenock, Scotland. Beautiful country here, a little strange in a way, looks nothing at all like back home. Didn’t get settled down good before we took another boat ride on the liberty ship ‘SS Suzan B. Anthony’ across to Belfast, Ireland. And from there another train ride to Portrush in central Ireland. I took in as much of the scenery as possible. If not for being in the Army, this would really be a trip to brag about back home.
In January of ’44 our regiment was made part of the 82nd Airborne Division. For many weeks we continued our training with a lot of night field maneuvers and night compass courses. There was more weapons training, judo, wrestling and hand-to-hand fighting. The weather was just rotten here. I don’t see how these people can make a good crop around these parts.
In April we moved back to England, this time to Nottingham. We spent a lot of time cleaning our guns and sharpening knifes. You could tell that the invasion wasn’t too far away. Things were getting awful serious around here now. They asked us all to make out a will and be sure to take out a life insurance policy for our folks, just in case. I had never thought much about dying up until that moment. I wasn’t old enough to think of such a thing.
On the 28th of May our regiment was moved by bus to airfields in central England. This was all done very secretly as they wanted nobody to notice. I suppose this thing is about to happen any day now. Everybody is getting pretty keyed up; some of the loudmouth fellows aren’t talking so much now.
June the 4th, the order came down. Tonight we go! Everyone spread out all their gear and carefully repacked. Some of the fellows were sporting a new Mohawk haircut. With all our face paint on, I must admit, we were a fierce looking bunch.
I may have looked fierce but inside my stomach was all tied in knots. That afternoon they called us all together. I figured this was going to be a pep talk, but no, we were to stand down. The drop was cancelled due to bad weather over the channel. Man, what a letdown! I’ve never felt wound up as tight as this.
It was a long night. I didn’t get much sleep, as I was going over everything again and again in my mind. I wish we had gone ahead with this invasion already.
The next morning there was a fine breakfast laid out for us and we were given a letter from General Eisenhower. He wished us luck and said, “The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you…”
We were on for tonight, I am fairly certain of that. Slowly and silently we all got geared up and tried to get our minds right.
Later that afternoon we headed over to the airfield, marching along in single file with all our heavy gear, face paint and all. The mood was somber and quiet, no talking much at all.
Up ahead there were some anti-aircraft gun emplacements off to one side. The British soldiers manning those guns were just standing up and watching in silence as the troopers walked by. Just as I got up to them, one of the Brits put out his hand to me. We shook hands; he looked me square in the eye and after a pause he said, “Good Luck Yank!”
We stand on the backs of their sacrifice. Their history is our tradition, as long as there are Americans to remember...
As we approached our green C-47 transport planes you could smell the unmistakable odor of fresh paint. There were new black and white invasion stripes painted on the wings. Word is that these new stripes would keep our own ships from shooting at us over the channel… How reassuring.
The sun was going down as our Lieutenant gathered us around and gave a last minute speech on what all expected of us and what we meant to him. He had never talked to us in that way before. Then there were handshakes all around the circle and we started climbing aboard our planes.
We were so heavy, what with all our gear, that each man was helped up the ladder by those behind him. I reckon that I weighed almost 300 pounds with my weapon and all my other stuff.
It seemed like an extra long time that it took our plane to taxi into position at the end of the runway, there were so many planes. Once in position our pilot revved up both engines to max power with the brakes applied. It was really loud and the plane shook terribly until he released the brakes and then we were off and rolling.
Once we finally got airborne, I looked out the window and was amazed at what I saw. I didn’t realize we had so many planes. This is what we have trained for these many months and now we’re finally going! This was really going to be a day to remember.
Our mission was to jump into Normandy behind the German lines and capture the bridges and crossroads along the Merderet River. Our job was to keep the German armor from getting to our fellows on the beach. Without much of a stretch, you could say that everything was pretty much riding on us.
The flight across the English Channel was fairly quiet. Some of the fellows were nervous and fidgety, some prayed, one guy was sound asleep. Some asked for gum, while others looked for rosary beads. I was doing a lot of thinking and remembering, that’s all, just remembering.
You could look down through the darkness and just make out that there were hundreds of ships below us, headed in the same direction. Man oh man, what a sight!
After what seemed like forever, the co-pilot called back and said we were passing over the coastline. Very shortly you could see flashes of light up ahead inside the cloudbank, and right away we started to hear them. It was German anti-aircraft fire, and we were headed right into it!
As we got near to our drop-zones, the fire got more and more intense. The pilot gunned the engines and tried to maneuver through all the clouds and white bursts of flak all around us. When the red light came on, our C.O. called out, “Stand Up!... Hook Up!... Equipment Check!”
There was a lot of flak exploding all around us, and loud! I hadn’t expected it to be this bad. We could see some of our planes getting hit, some were on fire, and others were going down. You could hear bullets hitting the wings. There was a lot of excitement and yelling. We just wanted out of that plane!
The green light came on, and in an instant, I was out the door! When the chute popped open, many of us lost equipment and weapons. The machine gunfire and tracers were streaming up at us from the ground below.
I watched as several of our planes smashed into a fireball on the ground while I hung above them in the air. It really looked like a sea of bullets headed straight up at the bottom of my feet! What have I gotten myself into? It looks as if every German in France is shooting at me!
Finally I hit the ground and rolled over hard, face down in the damp grass. It was cold, wet and 0232 in the morning. I was all alone in the dark. You could hear voices shouting in German off in the distance.
I had an immediate sinking feeling that we had been dropped in the wrong place. I looked around and surveyed the situation. There was enemy all around me, and heavy gunfire in every direction.
All of the sudden there were machine gun tracers flying right over my head. The sound of the German machine-gun was distinctive; you sure wouldn’t confuse it with one of ours. The fire moved from side to side over my head, but after a while I figured that they weren’t really aiming for me.
I slowly moved back toward to sound of our guns, and away from the sound of all those MG-42 guns. Fear, yes I was afraid, I’m not going to lie about it. But you just gather yourself and get up and go do what you came here to do.
Using my cricket, eventually I located some Americans, not from my unit, but they were Americans, that’s all that mattered. We were all separated and spread out. What a mess, this has all gone wrong so far!
It was apparent that we had missed our drop zone, but we were determined to improvise, adapt and overcome. We got out a map, a compass and a flashlight. Underneath a poncho we tried to figure out where we were.
Many of the guys landed in flooded marshes, some had drowned in five or six feet of water, loaded down by all their heavy equipment. There were parachutes and crashed gliders everywhere, many with dead paratroopers still in them. I’m not sure this could have gone any worse.
At first light I saw a paratrooper hanging from a utility pole, he was hanging right there in front of me just a few feet from the ground. He had been shot dead, riddled through with bullets before he could even get out of his harness.
Standing there I really felt overwhelmed and angry; all of that training and he never even fired a shot. Looking at him hanging there limp, it almost seemed to me as if he had been crucified. At that moment I knew that I no longer had any doubts about pulling the trigger on a Nazi.
At dawn, our guys gradually started to gather together into larger fighting units in the Norman countryside. We were to the west of Ste. Mere Eglise and we moved towards the town. Our objective was to attack and hold the La Fiere Bridge on the Merderet River. It was the main road leading to Utah beach.
We attacked the bridge with rifles, sub-machine guns and grenades, but more than anything else, we attacked that bridge with enraged determination. The fighting was savage, nothing like I had imagined.
There were bodies of dead and dying stacked up there like cordwood. We took heavy casualties, but we took the bridge... Our orders were to hold this road at all costs. The invasion depends on us!
The Germans counter attacked down the causeway, but they didn’t get through us. We held.
Our relief was supposed to be there the next day. They didn’t show up. We held and waited. We fought off several counter attacks. This wasn’t such a healthy place to stay, with what seemed like half the German Army trying to come down this road. We were outnumbered it looked like ten to one.
We held… We waited… Five days, no six days now with scarcely any sleep. We scavenged ammo from our dead and wounded, but even at that our ammo was running low, our morphine was running out. And finally we ran out of rations. I volunteered to go scrounge for something for us to eat… Somebody had to do it.
I moved slowly through the hedgerows and from one farmhouse to another. There must be some food around here somewhere. This land looks fertile and green enough to me. These people should be able to bring in a decent crop around here, surely.
There was a sharp crack and a sudden thud hit me… a German sniper.
It was a Sunday, June 11, 1944, and I was 21 years old.
Remember us, for we were soldiers once, and young.
* The German armor never got past to 507th and the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment or the 82nd Airborne Division to attack the Americans landing on Utah beach. Corporal Marvin Hubert Allen now rests in honor at the Hillcrest Burial Park just west of Waxahachie.
To make this continuing story possible, donations are being sought for the annual Veterans Day celebration at the Waxahachie Civic Center. Donors will be recognized in the program that is distributed to attendees. If you would like to sponsor one or more of the event needs, contributions may be mailed to Ellis County Veterans Appreciation Day, P.O. Box 1045, Waxahachie, TX 75168.