Dragoon

J. K. Horne, Jr., 517 PRCT

Sometime, shortly after midnight on Aug 15, 1944, we loaded our equipment bundles and troopers for the early morning jump into Southern France known as the Operation Dragoon. Each trooper had their personal equipment: two bandoleers of .30 cal ammo and enough field rations for three days. The rations included K-rations, C-rations and concentrated chocolate bars, a M-1 rifle, a .45  pistol, a full mussette bag, a bayonet, 3 knives, then add a main parachute, a reserve parachute, one half belt of .30 cal machinegun ammo and one telephone switchboard. Everyone of us was overloaded.

A short time after crossing the French coastline, we could see troopers jumping from other planes, but the only action light we had was red (that is the ready light). We flew for several minutes more before our green light finally came on and out we went anxious to get going. Being the tallest man in our plane, I was designated as the pusher. The pusher was to be the last trooper out of the plane and made sure everyone else had jumped. I put my shoulder into the back of Roger Bennett, from Albany, IN and began to push. We cleared the plane in record time and immediately after the opening shock, I hit the ground. The jump could not have been more than 400 to 500 feet high — should have been at least twice that height. Having a razor sharp trench knife on my right leg, I dumped my reserve chute and cut the chute harness off, sticking my trench knife in the ground and assembled my M-1 rifle for immediate action. Bennett and I landed close together and we started out in the dark to find the rest of our group. After about two running steps, we fell face down from a 6-7’ terrace that the French farmers had put in so they could farm the mountainside. Some ten to fifteen minutes later I remembered just where I had left my trench knife -- well I’d just have to do without it until I could get another one. As it developed we were in the same area as our battalion commander, Colonel Melvin Zais. We assembled about 400 troopers within a two-hour period. As soon as COL Zais determined our location, we proceeded toward our objective near Les Arcs.

The second morning, Aug 16, rifle fire awakened me from a very short sleep. I was in a ditch on the edge of a town called Callian. I was cold, hungry and of course I was scared. Breakfast was a C-ration of corned beef hash. The hash was cold and a fire to heat it was out of the question. Cold corned beef hash does not make a tasty breakfast. Later that same day, we heard the weirdest music coming our way. It turned out to be British paratroopers playing their bagpipes. I’ve often wondered it they played the pipes on the way down. It was extremely tiring climbing up and down the mountain trails with the overload of equipment. We had extra ammunition and a half belt of .30 cal machinegun ammo extra batteries for the telephone equipment, 3 miles of telephone wire and one six-jack telephone switchboard. During the first morning we discovered that with all this telephone equipment, we did not have a telephone. The switchboard was the heaviest of all this, so it fell over the side of the mountain...all by itself.

On the way to Les Arcs we played havoc with one German convoy plus several small groups of Germans. We were following a high-tension power line toward Les Arcs, when the Colonel decided we needed to cut those lines to disrupt power to any of the enemy that might be using it. Being a wireman, I carried wirecutters and had one pair of large heavy duty insulated cutters. Of course I was tasked with climbing a very tall pole to cut the high tension wires.  As I started climbing the pole,  I immediately drew rifle fire.   So I came back down and asked for a .03 sniper rifle. My plan was to shoot the glass connectors thereby breaking the wire. This only partially worked. I am sure the German rifle fire saved my life, cause the insulation on those cutters was not enough protection from the high voltage. (One of the 517 history books relates a similar story, but that trooper lost his life trying to cut the wire with a pick.)

Somewhere during these first few days we were stopped by a small force of Germans using a 6’ drainage ditch in the same manner as the WWI soldiers used trenches. This was the first time I saw the 442 men use their 4.2 mortars. They walked a barrage right down that ditch about 200 yds. All that was left were hands, feet and other body parts--no Germans survived.

 

Interview with JK Horn by PKO 5/98