Unlucky Number 13

An Interview with Clarence Hughart, H Company 507 PIR

On June 5th, around 2400 hours, we loaded into trucks and made our way to the airfield. On the way I remember everyone was quiet; no one was talking or joking. I remember thinking that I was headed to a place where I was going to shoot at someone and be shot at. We boarded the planes as soon as we arrived. Once on board I made my way to a seat and attempted to get some sleep, everyone was tired.

I remember looking up at our lieutenant just as we passed over the coast of Normandy – he was white as a ghost. This was going to be my 13th jump. I had 12 practice jumps and Normandy would be number 13. I was not superstitious but in the back of my mind I wondered if #13 would be unlucky. Suddenly, I could see the green light come on indicating we were over the drop zone.

For this jump I was fully loaded down with equipment – more equipment than I ever jumped with in my previous practice jumps. I was laden with grenades, an anti-tank mine, a beanbag shaped gammon grenade, mussette bag, knife, M1 Rifle, ammunition bandoleers, main and reserve chute.

I’m short and it was difficult to work my way to the door with all of the equipment I was wearing. As I stood in the open door and began to jump I lost my footing on the door’s threshold. The threshold became slippery due to condensation that built up during the flight. Rather than falling forward out the door, I was wedged in the door by my rifle. The men behind me started screaming, "get the hell out of the plane!"

Fortunately, I freed myself and made the jump. I landed in an isolated field. It was very dark and extremely quiet. As I started making my way through the field I ran into a squad of Germans. I attempted to shoot at the first one I saw, but suddenly, I felt a searing pain in my leg. The next thing I knew I was surrounded by Germans pointing rifles at my head; I thought this was the end.

The German soldiers took my watch and billfold, yelled at me, and asked me if I was American. I tried to stand up but my leg would not support my weight. My captors found a stick and tied it to my leg and carried me across a field.

War was a strange thing, I thought. We were supposed to kill each other, but now these enemy soldiers were looking after me. They could have killed me and my corpse might not have been found for weeks.

They carried me to a vehicle and gently laid me in the back seat on a few parachutes they had collected. I was driven to a company CP and laid on a bed of straw on the floor and remained there for several days.

I was diagnosed with a broken femur and was then moved to a German field hospital in Cherbourg -- where I was freed when the Americans liberated the area.

Personal Interview by Patrick O'Donnell with Clarence Hughart.