On the run behind German lines

Osce Jones                                   P-51 pilot Osce R. Jones poses beside his aircraft. (Photo provided by Carol Ann Jones Lizana)

By George Morris

Many veterans returned from World War II with stories to tell, and most relied only on their memory.

P-51 fighter pilot Osce R. Jones, had something more tangible — a diary.

Forced down over occupied France by antiaircraft fire the day after the D-Day invasion, Jones, of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, spent a week trying to evade capture and work his way back to England. He got caught, but while the events were fresh on his mind in a POW camp, he wrote about his experiences in a tiny notebook. His wife, Thelma, kept the notebook after he died in 1994.

“He had to write real small, because they didn’t have much paper,” she said.

The small print told a big story.

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Turning down a million-dollar wound

JamesCombs.adv
World War II Veteran James Combs shows off a photo of himself at age 24 Thursday at his home in Lafayette, Louisiana. (Photo by Bryan Tuck, used by permission of The Advocate, Baton Rouge)

By George Morris

For many soldiers in World War II, the best thing that could happen in combat was the “million-dollar wound” — one that didn’t maim for life, but sent them home.

Monroe Combs got his million-dollar wound shortly after D-Day, when artillery shrapnel struck one of his lungs. He was sent to a tent hospital on the Normandy coast.

“This captain said, ‘You got a chest penetration, so you’re home-bound,’” Combs said. “I said, ‘Really? I’m not going home. … I’m going to make that next jump.’ As I recall, I really took him back.”

By not cashing in, Combs would become part of one of the war’s most famous outfits.

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Airborne: First to arrive on D-Day

D-Day, Ike with paratroopersGen. Dwight Eisenhower speaks with paratroopers shortly before they board airplanes taking them into Normandy on D-Day. (National Archives)

By George Morris

Vincent Russo Sr. of New Roads, Louisiana, was already beyond fear. Russo was one of thousands of airsick paratroopers bouncing through the skies in C-47 transport planes in the earliest hours of D-Day.

“A deep breath of fresh air was the only thing on my mind,” Russo said.

Finally, a green light signaled it was time to jump, and men of the U.S. 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions stepped into the night illuminated by searchlights, anti-aircraft bursts and machine gun tracer rounds. They had to secure the roads and bridges leading from the invasion beaches. It was about 2 a.m., and, along with British paratroopers to the east, they were the first Allied combat soldiers to touch French soil.

At that hour and in that weather, it was impossible for the paratroopers to know whether they were going to land in an open field, in a tree, on a building, or …

“I hit with a great splash,” Russo said.

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Rangers at Omaha Beach and Pointe du Hoc

D-Day, Daniel Farley photo?5th Ranger Battalion soldiers recover some of their slain comrades on Omaha Beach before continuing the attack on D-Day (National Archives)

By George Morris

Daniel Farley didn’t know it at the time, but his West Virginia upbringing helped prepare him for a date with destiny in World War II.

On June 6, 1944, Pfc. Farley was part of the U.S. Army Rangers’ D-Day assault on Omaha Beach and Pointe du Hoc. Although wounded, he fought for four days before being hospitalized.

“Being a Ranger is all in the mind and the heart, period,” Farley said.

In his case, having the desired skill set didn’t hurt.

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The first men on Utah Beach

D-Day, Utah, soldiers ashoreSoldiers come ashore on Utah Beach on D-Day (National Archives)

By George Morris

In the dim but rising light of about 6:30 a.m., Leonce Haydel, of Gramercy, Louisiana, became one of the first Allied soldiers to step on the French beach. He was not expected to return.

“It was a suicide mission,” Haydel said. “What they sent us in on, we weren’t supposed to survive at all.”

If German Gen. Erwin Rommel had his way, that’s how it would have worked out.

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The clock ticks down to D-Day

D-Day, ready to board ships at Weymouth
Soldiers march toward the ships they’ll board for the Normandy Invasion. (National Archives)

By George Morris

They all knew it was coming. It was the reason they were in Great Britain, training for the great invasion of Western Europe. On April 6, all leave had been cancelled for the invasion troops. It was getting closer. But when would it be?

Nobody knew. Even as the towns, woods and roads of southern England filled with more and more men and machines, many of the troops had no inkling of how close the invasion was.

“We were one unit in that town, and we were not allowed to go just any place we wanted to,” said Mike Simpson, a medic with the 4th Infantry Division. “So, we didn’t know the magnitude of what was going on.”

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Band of Brothers

By George Morris

You never expect anyone outside the skinhead community to say anything good about Adolf Hitler, and certainly not at an Army reunion. But in a conference room of a New Orleans hotel in 1992, I asked Don Malarkey to explain the camaraderie he shared with the men he fought beside.

He stopped, rubbed his eyes and apologized for the emotion before he attempted an answer.

“I thank Adolf Hitler for every day that I had with these people,” Malarkey said. “We’re closer than family.”

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