The 101st Airborne Division

At Fort Bragg, I became a member of the famed 101st Airborne Division. The 101st consisted of both paratrooper and glider units. The mission of Airborne troops was to move behind enemy lines to secure and hold important military objectives, and, by doing so, demoralize the enemy. The paratroopers, on a mission, would fill the sky with parachutes as they jumped from our planes. The glider units used an equally heart-pounding method of travel.

101st AirborneOur primary method of transportation into unfriendly territory was the glider...an airplane with no engine! Gliders were attached at the nose to a tow plane by a one-inch nylon cable, and were pulled through the air to their destination much as you pull a kite off the ground. Once in the air, our gliders were always above our tow plane to avoid the terrific backwash. Each glider was perfectly navigable by rudder and tail-flaps, and had its own pilot. On reaching the target area, the glider would release from the tow plane and be maneuvered into an appropriate approach for landing.

It's ironic that the history of the glider's wartime use can be traced back to the end of World War I, when the strict provisions of the Treaty of Versailles prohibited Germany from owning, operating, or experimenting with powered military aircraft. As a result, German planners looked at the glider with interest, and began to explore its military capabilities. Then other countries, including the U.S., saw the advantages to this relatively inexpensive way of moving large amounts of troops behind enemy lines.

CG-4A

The U.S. Air Force Waco CG-4A glider (C for combat, G for glider, 4A for model changes) was the mainstay of the glider arsenal. It was designed by the Waco Aircraft Company of Troy, Ohio and, of the 14,000 gliders manufactured, only four are known to survive. The closest one is at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Built with a light, plywood flooring and a welded, tubular-steel frame covered with a tightly-stretched cotton fabric (I remember it always smelled like bananas), the glider was not designed as a thing of beauty, but as an aircraft which could carry many times its own weight in cargo. The nose of the CG-4A could be flipped upward to facilitate loading and unloading.

The 101st Airborne division has exemplified the epitome of military professionalism since the unit's activation on August 16, 1942. On that day, the first Commander of the famed Screaming Eagles promised his new recruits that "the 101st has no history, but it has a rendezvous with destiny". As a Division, the 101st has never failed that prophecy. During World War II, the 101st Airborne Division led the way on D-Day in the darkness immediately preceding the invasion. Later, when surrounded at Bastogne, General McAuliffe answered the Germans' demand to surrender by simply replying "Nuts!", and the Screaming Eagles fought on until the siege was lifted. For its valiant efforts and heroic deeds during WWII, the 101st Airborne Division was awarded four campaign streamers and two Presidential Unit Citations.

I was assigned to the 321st Glider Field Artillery, Battery "A", of the 101st. Even though many safe flights were made in gliders, it must not be forgotten that it offered a very dangerous flight. A non- military related accident illustrates this. On August 1, 1943, St. Louis Mayor William Dee Becker boarded a glider at Lambert Field (now St. Louis International Airport), as some 5000 people stood by. Minutes later, one of the wings broke free due to a manufacturing flaw, and the aircraft crashed, killing everyone on board. It's been said a glider infantryman had three strikes already against him on his one-way journey into combat.

There were benefits we enjoyed though, by being members of the 101st Airborne. We were given a 50% raise in pay that was called flight pay. We were issued leather jump boots that were the envy of ground troop GIs. In fact, if an Airborne man spotted an unauthorized GI wearing a pair of our boots, they were to be taken off the man. And, of course, we were honored to wear the coveted silver glider wings on our uniforms.

I am proud to be an alumni of the 101st "Screaming Eagles" Airborne Division. The 101st was made up some of America's bravest fighting men and has made a great name for itself in the annals of the U.S. military. In 1945, the 101st Airborne Division was awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation for our work at Bastogne. It was the first time in American history that an entire army division had been so commended. General Eisenhower himself presented the award at ceremonies in Mourmelon, France.

 
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