Frank P. Costa, Sr. is 91 years old and resides in the Home Sweet Home assisted living residence in Kingston, NY. Quite by accident, I saw my father in a TV ad for Home Sweet Home on a local TV station. I mentioned the TV ad to a cousin of mine and we talked about possible residuals that should go to his estate for the heirs to split. Of course, this was a ridiculous discussion and we got a good laugh out it. My father suffers from dementia and many of his memories of the past are no longer accessible to him in any detail. Having a discussion with him, of any consequence, is just about impossible now.
Dad was a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division of the U.S Army during World War II. He was in the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment. His first combat jump was on the night of June 5-6, 1944 into Normandy France – D-Day, the allied invasion of Europe. The designated landing zone was the area around the small town of Ste. Maire Egliese. It was on the only main road to the fortified city and deep water port of Cherbourg, further west. Ste. Maire Egliese was the principal objective of the 82nd so that the Allied armies could prevent any German rescue or resupply of Cherbourg.
My father was positioned as the first soldier to exit the plane when the green light, the jump signal, was given. On his training jumps he was always faint and queasy in the aircraft. He couldn't wait to get out of the plane and into the fresh air. So the jump sergeant sat him next to the door of the C47. The triple A flak (anti-aircraft artillery) was so heavy, the pilot veered to avoid the danger and gave the jump signal at a purely arbitrary moment. Many of the pilots in the following planes, with other 507th paratroopers, followed the lead pilot's right turn. They landed more than 30 km from their intended drop zone.
Dad landed in a flooded field, up to his shoulders in water. He cut himself out of the risers on his parachute with his trench knife, but he lost his M1-A carbine. With the arrival of dawn, he spotted a church on high, dry ground and made his way out of the water. He regrouped with his regiment, part of it anyway, in the tiny hamlet of Graignes, maybe 15 km from Carentan. The village church with a tall bell tower was the most recognizable feature and occupied the highest elevation in generally flat terrain. The church was of typical medieval Norman design, but I don't know how old it was. One-hundred seventy-six soldiers (176) assembled, including a few from the 101st Airborne Division, the Screaming Eagles. There was one Army Airforce fighter pilot. None of the surviving vets remembers where the fighter pilot came from.
The 507th was a headquarters outfit. That meant they had mortars, 50 caliber 'light' machine guns, and lots of explosives. They also had a lot of communications equipment, but they were too far away to contact any of the allied units. They were completely cut off from all communications. They had some great officers with them – a Colonel ('Pip' Reed), a Captain, and number of Lieutenants. The first thing they did was ascertain where they were with the help of the locals. They were so far off the drop zone that their location was off their military map. After much deliberation and argument, Colonel Reed decided to stay and set up a defense perimeter, rather than try to get back to the friendly lines through unfamiliar terrain and mostly flooded fields.
The head of the French Resistance in the area was a Graignes farmer, named Regault. His second in command was the Mayor of the Hamlet. The trusted locals were instructed the night before, by Regault and the Mayor, that the invasion was coming and that they were expected to do their duty when the time came. Regault had two daughters, Yvette 18 and Marthe 12. They were to become heroes in their own right and save the lives of many of the Americans. The first thing the locals did was to scour the area for the equipment and supplies that were parachuted with the soldiers. They smuggled the equipment in their horse carts and wagons. The proprietor of the local restaurant, Mme. Brousier, organized her suppliers to bring in large quantities of food stuffs to feed the paratroopers. They had to smuggle and be discreet so as not to attract the attention of the German soldiers in the area. The Germans soon learned of the existence of the Americans, but did not know who they were, how many, or how they were equipped. Some of the young French girls ran off to alert their German soldier boy friends.