In May 2009, I was fortunate together with my friends Dani, Pat and Rob to be part of a Pathfinder Tour to tour Normandy. We had a former US paratrooper with us who jumped into Normandy on June 6, 1944. His name was Dick Ladd, of the 502nd P.I.R. This was without doubt the tour of my life! The leading historians were 101st Airborne history guru Mark Bando from Trigger Time and Paul Woodadge of Battlebus.
Also with us was Ed Peters, whose father Edward "Frosty" Peters, 506th P.I.R was KIA on June 6th, 1944 while attacking a German MG42 nest. We stayed in a great B&B called " The "Ivy House" just off Utah Beach. The first photos are on the site of the La Fière Battle. It is known as the bloodiest small-arms battle in the history of U.S. warfare. Paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division jumped in the night through a torrent of gunfire into the swamped Normandy countryside. Hundreds were killed before they landed. Many drowned. Those who survived faced a deadly and vital mission. They were outnumbered and outgunned.
The Americans Paras sieged by Germans SS
Shortly after 2:00 am on D-Day, twelve planeloads of paratroopers from the 3rd Battalion 507th PIR were scattered throughout the marshes south of Carentan. They were supposed to have been dropped eighteen miles to the northwest at drop zone "T" near Amfreville, but instead they ended-up in the vicinity of the village of Graignes. Theirs was the worst miss drop of any airborne unit on June 6, 1944. After sunrise and seeing the 12th Century church silhouetted on high ground above the village, several small groups of these men slogged their way, into the village and were given sanctuary by the astonished villagers. Because the troopers were deep behind enemy lines and far from their drop zone, the decision was made to remain where they had landed and defend Graignes. The episode that would unfold in this obscure little village over the course of the next five days stands as one of the most dramatic and tragic of the entire Normandy campaign.
By 10:00 am on D-Day, twenty-five paratroopers under the command of 507th Capt. Leroy D. Brummitt had gathered in the village. Considering what they had been through, the small group of troopers was surprisingly well armed. Two hours later, more 3rd Battalion/507th men arrived led by Major Charles D. Johnson. After discussing the situation with Capt. Brummitt, Major Johnson took control of the 507th men assembled in the village. He felt that, moving the force toward the American airborne units fighting to the north was an impractical idea because the 82nd and 101st Division drop zones were just too far away. He therefore decided that the best course of action would be to keep the force in Graignes and organize a defensive perimeter and await a link-up with ground forces coming across the landing beaches. Capt. Brummitt disagreed but as the ranking officer present, Johnson’s decision was final: Graignes would be defended.
he people of Graignes and surrounding farm families unanimously vote to aid the Americans and provide them with food, shelter and combat support.
The village priest welcomes the troopers and offers the church as aid station and observation post. Two young girls risk their lives in dangerous run-ins with Germans to retrieve weapons from the swamp and transport them to the soldiers. As the Americans went to work preparing defensive positions, the village became a hive of activity. While these defenses were being prepared, Major Johnson established his Command Post at the boys’ school. In short, all routes into Graignes were covered by rifles, machine guns, mines and mortars.
Eventually, 182 paratroopers (14 officers and 168 men) and hundreds of the French citizens combine to take on the Germans, fooling them into thinking a major force is in the town -Graignes had become the Alamo of Normandy. An entire SS Panzer Regiment of 2,000 soldiers of the 17th SS Goetz v. Berlichingen Division is sent to quell the troopers in Graignes. In 6 days of fighting, the Americans inflict numerous casualties on the Germans. Out of ammo and outnumbered 10-1, the American troopers are eventually overrun by the German forces. Many soldiers live through a harrowing escape from Graignes and manage to rejoin their regiments. Hoping for fair treatment as POWs based on tenets of the Geneva Convention, the wounded are left behind with the medical officer in the church.
n retaliation for the battle at Graignes, the SS troops drag the remaining wounded soldiers and civilians (including two priests) to the outskirts of the village, force them to dig pits, and then brutally shot dozens of people - their bodies unceremoniously dumped into the pits. On Tuesday June 13 the Germans then destroyed the church and set fire to the village to burn it down.
On June 6, 1944, the mission of the 2nd battalion of the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment was to take Saint-Côme-du-Mont. In the night of June 5-6, lieutenant colonel Ballard Paratroopers jumped on the Drop Zone D in Angoville-au-Plain. The officer mustered 150 men and tried to seize the town of Les Droueries, where the Germans seemed entrenched. A medic post was settled in Angoville-au-Plain. While the Americans were kept in check in Les Droueries, the German parachutists took again Angoville-au-Plain; the town was taken and seized again several times. The Germans entered Vierville on June 7 in the morning. On June 8, colonel Sink, commander of the 506th PIR gave order to take back Vierville. The Americans continued their counter-attack, and overcame the German defenders in Angoville-au-Plain; in the afternoon colonel Sink transfered his headquarters in the town.
This 11th Century Norman church still holds services today, and stands as a symbol of man’s humanity in the midst of one of man’s greatest horrors - war. Eighty men and one child found refuge in this church during those tumultuous day, and evidence of their suffering is still present today in the blood stained pews and bullet marks about the church. After 65 years the church remains virtually unchanged as it did during those monumental days.
The stained glass window dedicated to medics Robert E. WRIGHT and Kenneth J. MOORE of the 2nd Battalion of the 501st P.I.R./101st Airborne Division.
501st PIR medics monument
This monument is dedicated to
medics Robert E. Wright and Kenneth J. Moore of 2nd battalion, 501st PIR of 101st Airborne. In Angoville-au-Plain church they took care of numerous wounded soldiers and a child, during the
fighting of the Landing first days.
Colonel Ballard, Commanding Officer of the 2/501st PIR sent his adjutant. Lieutenant Edward Allworth, along with two 2nd Battalion Medics, Private Kenneth Moore and private Robert Wright to establish an aid station in the church at Angoville.
For three days the fighting continued in and around Angoville, and the wounded kept coming into the haven set up in Angoville church. Wounded from both sides, and one French child were brought in and treated by medics Moore and Wright. Three times Angoville changed hands during the fighting, but the aid station in the church held fast and continued treating the wounded. The first time the Germans recaptured Angoville they stormed into the church, their guns at the ready. However upon entering they saw both American and German wounded being treated and quietly left the church, leaving this medical sanctuary alone. The church was not bothered again.
Here is Col. Sink standing in the door of his second Normandy CP in June 1944 - the Ferme Levigoureux, Angoville-au-Plain. The same place in May 2009.
On June 8, 1944 Colonel Sink, commander of the 506th PIR gave order to take back Vierville. The Americans continued their counter-attack, and overcame the German defenders in Angoville-au-Plain; in the afternoon Colonel Sink transfered his headquarters in the town. Here the radio place.
Richard Ladd, 502nd P.I.R / 101st Airborne Division
Richard Ladd, S-2
502nd P.I.R landed east of Ste. Martin de Varreville, and got his first "trigger time" using a discarded Russian PPSH41.
Richard Ladd sat on these same steps in Blosville and smoked a cigarette on June 8th 1944. Here Mr Ladd is smoking again 65 years later (Blosville May 19th 2009). The crossroad below is the place, where Richard Ladd had his first "trigger time".
The battle at Les Droueries and the farm
Here is a short summary of what happened at Les Droueries. Most of the action happened on the
other side of the of the farmhouse.
Lt. Col. Ballard 2/501 assembled some men and with urgency he neede dto get to his objective of St. Come du Mont. Firstly he had to get past the Farmhouse of Les Droueries. He ordered E Company on the right and F to the left, followed in reseved by D. Both companies were driven back by heavy small arms coming from the building. Walter Wood and a handful of men from the 506th got into position on E Company's right. It was in this stage of the action in which Lt. George Schmidt was killed by a German sniper. He was hit once but carried on then was hit again and he sadly died.
Wood managed to get to a position near where the monument is now and E Company gained more ground also. However Ballard ordered them to withdraw to Angoville because they could not hold on in their current situation. The German fire still coming from Les Droueries made the withdrawal very slow. The 2/501st were unable to get into Angoville as there was fighting at that village as well. Ballard took his men to a position beside the marsh on DZ D on the left side of Les Droueries. He ordered F to engage the Farmhouse but received many casualties. The 2/501st stayed by the marsh overnight.
Next day Ballard got orders to hold position because his unit was going to assist the mission of the 506th tio capture St. Come du Mont. Artillery was sent over the Germans, some fell on the US positions killing some of their own men. Tanks were then called they proceded to Les Droueries, firing all the way. E Company managed to take the crossroad they held onto briefly the day before. F Company who were still forward from the day before were replaced by Walter Wood and D Comapny. The famhouse at Les Droueries was finally taken midday on D+1. The 2/501st were then told to hold positions for the night, in preparation for the second attempt to take St. Come du Mont on D+2. (taken form the Les Droueries Facebook site)
2nd Lt. George E. Schmidt, 2/501st P.I.R / 101st Airborne
2nd Lt. George E. Schmidt, 2/501st P.I.R / 101st Airborne was killed by a German sniper as they attacked Les Druries and Addeville who had his sniper nest in this B & B near Haute Addeville. The bullet holes can still be seen today. Schmidt got the DSC for his heroic action against the sniper.
Holdy Battery and Aid Station
This is the location of George "Doc" Lage's aid station as well as the location where the German gun battery was located as well as a famous Glider crash site. This gun battery was perhaps more important than that of Brecourt Manor.
Colonel Sink, Commander of the 506th PIR established his first command post at the site of this farm. Lt. Winters and other members of his mixed unit, who took out the German batteries at Brecourt Manor, rested in this farm for one night. At 4:30 am, Colonel Sink assembled 600 men and pushed onto Vierville, before setting up his second command post at a farmhouse at Angoville-au-Plain.
Edward Frosty Peters Company Commander Regimental HQ Co. 506th PIR
A native of Galena, MD, Ed Peters attended Western MD University before entering the U.S.
Army. The 1943 photo above shows him with his wife and son Edward Jr. After being commissioned as an Infantry Lieutenant, he attended TPS, got his jump wings and became a member of the 511th PIR.
He later transfered to the 506th PIR and was made commander of regimental HQ Company. On D-Day, Captain Peters landed on DZ 'C' and assembled with Colonel Sink and other members of the regimental
staff at Culoville. Leading aggressive patrols toward Vierville and beyond that day, Peters reportedly knocked-out some German machinegun positions, before his luck ran out and he was killed by a
sniper's bullet on the afternoon of June 6 1944.
The regimental S-2 journal gives his time of death as 3:15PM, while Hank Hannah, the S-3 wrote in his journal that Peters died closer to noon on June 6th. Captain Peters' body arrived at the temporary Hieville cemetery on 9 June, which was placed on his burial record as the date of death, because the Graves Registration personnel did not have knowledge of when or where he actually died. He was awarded the Silver Star Medal posthumously.
As described in Bandos 6th book, 'Avenging Eagles', Captain Peters 'visited' Captain Robert S. 'Buck' Dickson (502) on the afternoon of 7 June, at St Martin de Varreville, in an unexplained, ghostly appearance. Dickson had been college roommates with 'Frosty' Peters at Western MD. He was positive he saw Peters and they talked about where old college friends were serving, in various branches of the military. After a few minutes, Buck asked "Where is your C.P.?" and Peters replied "behind those trees over there."
This meeting was described to Mark Bando around 2003 and it was rather a chilling memory because as Bando listened to Buck telling him about it, Mark Bando realized that Frosty had already been deceased for about 24 hours, before this meeting took place.
The reference to "behind those trees over there" convinced Bando that this was a paranormal visitation. Frosty had died the day before, over six miles south of where this meeting took place.
Sgt John Taylor of F/506th, also described a Frosty Peters incident around midnight June 11-12, 1944, when patrolling in darkness,searching for a route into Carentan from the la Barquette area. Captain Peters had materialized out of the misty darkness and after leading Taylor's patrol into Carentan, vanished as suddenly as he had appeared.
In May, 2009, our Normandy tour group included Ed Peters Jr. and his wife. Among the places we visited, was the gun battery field near St Martin, where Frosty had appeared and spoken with Buck Dickson. We also went to his 2nd temporary burial place at les Forges, at the VIIth Corps cemetery of Blosville, where Captain Peters was re-interred on July 4, 1944. We went to the approximate area of his death and the present burial location at St Laurent/Colleville. (text courtesy Mark Bando)
Ed Peters Jr. (on the right) in front the gun battery field near St Martin, where his dad Frosty had appeared and spoken with Buck Dickson. Photo left: Frosty Peters.
St. Marcouf June 8, 1944 and May 2009
Marmion Farm or also known as "The Stopka Strongpoint" - Then and Now
South of Ravenoville is the Marmion Farm also known as the "Stopka Strongpoint" named after Major John P Stopka. This old farm served as a gathering point for strays of all regiments, most from the 506th and 502nd but also included were troopers of the 82nd's 507th and 508th. Some of the most famous photos of Airborne troopers have been taken at this location.
Photos above left to right:
Marmion Farm, from L to R - Pfc Forrest Guth, Sgt Floyd Talbert, Pvt John Eubanks, unidentified trooper, and Pvt Francis Mellet / Forrest Guth with a captured German helmet at Marmion Farm / Group photo with captured Nazi flag.