The following letters, manuscripts, photos are from George Graves Jr. of Headquarters Company, 504 Parachute Infantry Regiment.
The twenty-five year old Private Graves sent the letter printed below to his father and mother. It describes in detail the experience of his first jump.
Prior to entering the service he graduated from Yale University and worked on Wall Street as a stockbroker. Graves served in nearly every battle campaign that the 504 was involved in, beginning with Sicily and ending with Central Europe.
Fort Benning, Georgia
July 21, 1942
Dear Mother and Dad:
Well, Monday the 20th of July was certainly an exciting day in my young life. We sat around the field for about three hours watching the three other companies making their first jumps, as we were the last company of four to jump. They came out in eight-man masses, so when four or seven or something like that came out we could tell that someone had refused. It was horribly hot, and we were weighted down with fifty pounds of parachutes and helmets, etc., so we were all sweating like the devil. Naturally, everyone was nervous to varying degrees and trying to get their courage together. When we got our sixteen men together to get counted off to go up, I found to my great horror that I was the No. 1 man out of 16 out of the plane. We sit opposite each other in the plane and naturally can observe all the movements of our fellow travelers. Well, I had to sit right next to the damned open door, and I couldn't help looking out from time to time at the ground getting smaller and smaller. It was quite windy, and we were all rocking all over the place. Fully 75% of those kids had never even been inside a plane before! Perhaps you can imagine what my facial expressions were. On the ground I had told my self over and over and over 1,000 times, "There's nothing to this. You'll be the first out and have to set a good example for those other guy's." Well, looking at the sweating faces opposite me, all just as white as a ghost, just bloodless, made it 1000 times worse! God knows what I looked like. Then I looked at the "jump master" who gives us our orders and picks the place for us to land. He lies on the belly of the floor of the plane with his head out the door watching the ground. He looked to me like a devil or an executioner in his big wind goggles. I got no encouragement whatsoever looking at him. Then I began telling myself, "You've simply got to get through with this for your family and everyone else." About that time the fateful order from the jump master came. "Stand up and hook up!" "Sound off for equipment check!" "Is everything going to go!" We all sounded off a very weak "Yes." By that time my legs were literally knocking together like rubber, and I thought I could actually hear my heart pounding. I gulped a few times. "Stand in the door!" I gave the jump master one of those "Who me?" looks, about the way I used to ask you, "What did you say?" while I was trying to think up an answer. I only had to take a half step from where I was, but I got the wrong foot in the door. I didn't lean out the door into the prop blast as I had my hands incorrectly inside the door. He gave me a good crack behind the knees and out I went. I vaguely remember seeing the tail flash over my head, and I must have had a good body position as I had a very gentle opening jerk. Suddenly, I felt a wonderful glow of excitement come over me, like a baby when he sees a new toy. You just can't describe it. In all the happiness of floating and swaying around up there, taking in everything that goes on the ground. I completely forgot all about checking the ground currents, getting my back to the wind, etc., but concentrated on checking oscillation and landing right. Luckily, I came in with the wind at my back and made a swell landing. I just sat on the ground with a smile from ear to ear yelling, "Whoopee!" just like a little kid. The kid that landed right next to me got a very bad sprained ankle and couldn't walk. The "meat wagon" came right over to him.
After it was all over, you realized what a wonderful thrill parachuting is. I wouldn't get out of this outfit for all the tea in China. There's nothing like the thrill you get floating around up there. Our company had a clear slate as nobody refused, but there were nine in the other companies. Seventeen refused last week, but most of the screwballs and guys who joined for the extra $50 a month are already washed out.
As a result, our company had the honor of jumping first this morning. I wasn't nervous at all in the plane today as I was No. 7 man. I got just a little bit nervous as I got near the door and dove out like a scared rabbit and consequently got a terrible opening jerk as I was in a froglike position with my arms and legs all over the place. I talked back and forth with the fellows going down and experimented some with maneuvering the chute around, but I couldn't figure out how the wind was blowing on the ground until too late to do anything about it, and I slipped in sideways and hit the ground with a hell of a bang on my side, but that's what they toughen us up for so I didn't get hurt I'll have my silver wings and graduate Saturday morning.
It's possible that I might get a ten day furlough after graduation here, so dust of the old dormitory for me. Hope you are both well and happy. Much love to you all.
THE 82nd LEAVES FORT BRAGG AND HEADS FOR NORTH AFRICA
Shortly after the end of the War, Mr. Graves wrote the following unedited manuscript as a basis for a book he planned to write about his war experiences. It chronicles his journey, as a member of the 82nd Airborne, from Fort Bragg, North Carolina to North Africa. Unfortunately, the book was never written. Recently, the manuscripts were found on the bottom of his army trunk, where they have been neatly packed away for nearly 50 years.
We Leave Fort Bragg, North Carolina
April 18, 1943
The great day that we have been waiting for had finally arrived. We spent the previous three days packing and cleaning the barracks. The fact that we were making a permanent change of station meant that we were going overseas and made our work easy, the time flew. For almost a week, our Regimental area had been barred from civilians, but everybody in Fayetteville knew that the 82nd was "moving overseas". The other soldiers on the post viewed us with awe and admiration.
After waiting around in a drizzle for nearly two hours amid a great deal of bitching, the band appeared and we made our march to the railroad singing to the tunes of our favorite "We're All American". As usual, something had gone wrong at the last minute, we did not have the expected number of train cars and were consequently crowded into the few coaches that were at the station. Once aboard, a long list of "does" and "don'ts" was read to us with particular attention being paid to security measures such as talking to civilians and not leaving the cars when we stopped at a station. We had brown patches sewn over our divisional insignia on our shoulders. Shortly after 3:00 p.m. we slowly pulled out of the Fort Bragg Military Reservation, leaving behind many memories -- some pleasant and others rather unpleasant. Everyone was in a festive mood and a great many arguments arose as to our destination. The opinions were as varied as the number of men in a car.
After spending a very uncomfortable night with three men sleeping in a section at various obtuse angles, morning found us outside Washington. We made extremely poor time for the trip. However, we had gone a very devious route to throw off possible saboteurs as we were supposed to be very valuable cargo, a thousand or more highly trained parachutists. Once during the night, I looked out the window as we were crossing a bridge, I was surprised to find it guarded.
For many of the Southern boys it was their first trip north of the Mason-Dixon line, and the inevitable friendly arguments as to the comparative virtues of the North and South made the time pass quicker than it would have otherwise. As the train neared and passed through Penn Station in New York, we were more or less stumped as to our destination as we were heading for a port of Embarkation and didn't know of any north of New York.
After the train turned towards Cape Cod, passing through Providence, Rhode Island it became it became obvious that we were going to Camp Edwards, Mass. This pleased the boys from the Boston area to no end. Some of the fellows like myself had passed right through our home towns on the way up and we all had a great temptation to jump off the train. I was really surprised no one did.
It was pouring rain as we pulled into the siding at Edwards. A cold wind from the Ocean chilled us to our bones. We were forced to walk about a mile in mud over our ankles to our barracks. Needless to say, we were all quite disillusioned about our new home. Some of the Southern boys swore for ten minutes without repeating a word about this "Yankee" country.
Our Stay at Camp Edwards
The next morning brought more rain along with more admonition from the Southern boys as we sized up our new post. We were not allowed to wear our jump boots or parachute patches as our identity was supposed to be a secret. The days passed very quickly for my Company. We were responsible for processing many "deals" transfers and orders to be made and revoked, weeding out most of the undesirable personnel of the Regiment. We even transferred an AWOL man and one dead man.
Our time was taken up by many inspections. We were issued regular equipment, given a complete set of impregnated clothing to use in gas attacks and were shown training films on protection from against them. Several items such as sand and dust goggles, insect fluid and pills for the purification of water gave us the hint we were headed for desert country somewhere.
There was a GI movie house near the barracks and one night an incident took place which should have made it clear to everyone who already didn't know our identity who we were. During the course of a newsreel some paratroopers were shown. The noise which ensued almost brought down the rafters.
After we had been at Edwards about a week and were all getting impatient for our departure. General Ridgeway called for a divisional parade. With the whole division lined up before him, he mounted a stand and gave a speech the loud speaker system. He told us that this would probably be the last time he would ever have a chance to speak to us as a group. He reviewed the trails and tribulations of our months of training together and said he didn't know whether it would be a "glider spear head" or a parachute assault that would give us our first taste of battle, but that he felt sure we would fully uphold the glorious traditions of the 82nd Divisions in World War I and fulfill all the optimistic predictions made about us by those who had observed the 82nd during training and maneuvers.
Trip to the Port of Embarkation
Early in the mourning of April 27, 1943 we were told that "the day" had arrived. After breakfast, we packed our bags and started a long vigil in front of the barracks to await our turn to untruck for the train station. Once at the station, we again found that we did not have the number of train cars we requested and were once again crowded into the coaches.
Again we were given a long list of "Train Behavior" read to us and were issued baloney and cheese sandwiches. Our destination was New York, and the trip passed by quickly. The tracks ran very close to the apartment houses along the way and hundreds of people, guessing our destination, leaned out to wave and cheer us on. It was all quite thrilling.
We finally arrived at Jersey City and boarded a ferry and nosed out into the Hudson.
It was just getting dark and the lights of lower Manhattan were blinking on. So many boys crowed the port side rail to get a look at the City that I thought the old tub would run over.
We passed Governor's Island and the old Castle Williams. As we pulled into the ferry slip on Staten Island, the strains of our beloved "We're All American" and The "The Beer Barrel Polka" greeted us. As we docked, there were many Red Cross workers on the dock handing out hot coffee and donuts which made the whole affair take on a very pick knicky atmosphere. We each stopped long enough at the gang plank to receive Red Cross overseas bag and give our name and serial number, after which we disappeared into the belly of what we had already seen was a very large ship.
Aboard the U.S.S. George Washington
My first thoughts after setting foot aboard, was consolation and relief at being on a big baby which probably would not be sunk by one torpedo. My brief elation soon turned to utter skepticism when I viewed our quarters. We were quartered in the bowls of the ship on the last deck just above the drive shaft, as far aft as was possible. We were to sleep in triple deck canvas bunks. Right then and there, I started worrying about a sub attack as we couldn't possibly have gotten up six decks to the life boats in case of emergency - or so I thought at the time.
We were all disappointed to find upon awakening the next morning that we were still tied to a dock on Staten Island and not on the high seas. The day was spent watching the stevedores loading the ship and asking the crew the impossible $64.00 question, "When are we shoving off and where?" All we did learn was that our ship was the USAT "George Washington" which had formerly been the German Liner "Bismarck" and had carried President Wilson to Europe to sign the Treaty of Versailles.
Happily for those who had field glasses there was a Grace Liner at the pier next to us loaded with WAACS. Both parties waved back and forth and great shouts would go up as officers and GI's on the other boat were seen talking to the WAACS. We cursed their good luck and our own bad luck. We had some mild compensation, when some female pier workers came out on a ledge above us providing some mild excitement and amusement.
At 3.00 a.m. the next morning, I was awakened from a restless sleep by a feeling of motion under me and a knowledge that we were at least under way. When we were allowed on deck after breakfast, we found our ship was part of a vast armada of which we could count about thirty ships, including small warships weaving in and out amongst us in strange patterns. Just off our Starboard bow, was a small British carrier with many P-38's tied down on the runway. The old battleship "Texas" was wallowing in the seas just ahead of us.
Life aboard ship soon settled down to a hum drum existence. For the first six days from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. which seemed quite natural as we could spend the whole day sunning ourselves or reading or sleeping in deck chairs on the 3rd aft deck whic h was our allotted space. Chow was quite an inconvenience as we ate only twice a day, and at first there was a tremendous amount of confusion in getting the various companies lined up correctly in the passageways. There was a loudspeaker system that advised us of all our boat drills, etc. this became quite a nuisance.
One pleasant thing about the trip was the cheap price we paid for cigarettes, 4 cents a pack. Everyone bought all they could stuff into their already crammed barracks bags.
In order that soldiers might participate in their favorite pastime, we were given a $5.00 part payment. I promptly lost mine playing black jack. Those who lost their dough watched those who hadn't. Some of my pals made the mistake of disregarding the sailor's prowess with the cards and lost considerable amounts of money.
On the eighth night out, just after our Company had changed to a shift sleeping on the top deck at night, a sub supposedly popped up right in the middle of the convey. The gunners said they sank it but that two ships in another part of the convey had been sunk from the sub's attack.
Arrival at Casablanca, French Morocco
Early on the morning of May 10, 1943, we noticed many small planes overhead and for the first time in many days, saw sea gulls. Remembering the experience Christopher Columbus once had, I surmised that we were near land. This suspicion was soon confirmed as we saw a long, low, gray coastline ahead of us. As we edged slowly towards what we could see was a large city, several small tubs flying the Tricolor of France began hovering around us, the crews broke down and told us that we were off the harbor of Casablanca, French Morocco.