- Tragedy at Reims -
14 March 1945
Qualification jumps were
periodically as certification of jump status. All units of the 82nd
including the 508th PIR, were scheduled
to participate in the Reims jump which was slated to go
in two flights.
The 1st Battalion and Regimental
Headquarters Company were scheduled for takeoff in the morning while the 2nd
Battalion would go in the afternoon. Before dawn the 1st Battalion was en route to the Reims airfield where they would be issued
their chutes and equipment bundles before boarding the now familiar C-47 aircraft.
As the 42-plane formation began
to sweep over the designated drop zone, the men were streaming from the aircraft
and the sky filled with chutes of approximately 450 men.
At what could be called the worst possible moment, one of
the trailing C-47s suddenly lost it's starboard propeller. Already
flying at decreased airspeed to accommodate the jumpers needs, the aircraft
was unable to recover on its single operating engine. The rapidly sinking
aircraft cut a swath through the parachutists in its path.
One after another, parachutes
were draped over the wings of the aircraft and their cargo were cemented against
the metal as the stricken C-47 plunged to the ground. Another paratrooper's
chute was snagged by the tail and he rode it to the ground. Surprisingly
he survived. His parachute can be seen still draped over the tail in
the photos, below.
[Standing l-r]: Sgt Worster M. Morgan, Thomas H. Plemon, Robert W.
Peterson, James Rankin, (either Mark Bradley or Mayo Heath), Fred Robbins, Alfred J. Vaughn,
James E. Kulmer,
[Kneeling, l-r] Werner T. Angress, John G. McCall
[Sitting, l-r] Clifford J. Campbell, Joel R. Lander, Richard E. Stedman,
Howard A. Greenawalt
All except Vaughn survived the jump.
Jody Lander recalled that "Angress and
another man were interpreters attached to us for the Normandy and
Holland jumps ... One of them [possibly Angress] was captured on
the Normandy jump. We got him back when Cherbourg was liberated."
(photos courtesy of Zig Boroughs, The Devils Tale, Pg 293. Note that some
spelling errors have been corrected)
The chalk number for Stedman's stick is unknown but
Chalk 16 led by Rex Combs is
documented and is the basis for knowing that the jump that day was
codenamed Operation Luftwaffe
"Rolling Bundles Before The Tragedy Jump"
was written on this photo of riggers at work.
Worster Morgan and Jody Landers strap on chutes for the jump in
during practice jump over France
Plane out of control, plows through jumpers already in the air.
(photo by Emmitt Shirley, Parachute Maintenance Command)
stream from the wings as plane crashes, killing many
Six men of the 508th and the
plane's crew of four were among the dead. The 508th casualties were: Pvt Nick
C. Emanuel; Pfc Bernard Levin; Pfc Luther M. Tillery; Pfc Charles Under Baggage,
Jr.; Pfc Alfred J. Vaughn; and Pfc George W. Wall
from the mangled wreckage. A field ambulance is already on the
remains in one piece
shows the parachute snagged on the vertical stabilizer
although actually a practice jump, Dietrich, was told that it was a
parade jump held in her honor. She fell for this little white lie and
after witnessing the crash became hysterical and remained severely
Source: Nordyke, P., “Put Us Down In Hell: The Combat
History of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment in World War II” 2012,
pp. 483 – 485
(courtesy Capt. Rex Combs
collection unless otherwise cited)