It was a beautiful sunny day, better suited for a picnic than a combat operation. We donned our equipment, put on our parachutes and struggled aboard the aircraft. Our serial consisted of the 2d Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry plus elements of regimental headquarters and the 82d Airborne Division signal battalion. A total of 713 personnel loaded aboard 45 C-47s and taxied to the runway in single file for take off. Once airborne, the planes flew to a designated rendezvous and circled until all aircraft in the serial joined the formation. This accomplished, we flew over the English countryside and headed for Holland. It must have been an awesome sight from the ground, hundreds of aircraft flying in formations of nine plane V of V's in trail.
I don't recall our exact en route altitude. When I looked out of the open door I saw people looking up and waving from roadsides, towns and villages along our flight path. We left England behind and flew over the North Sea. Over Holland, bombers preceded the formations and attacked flak guns along the route. Fighters flying above the formations protected against German air attack and engaged any flak guns the bombers had not silenced. As we flew inland, I recall seeing one lone Dutch civilian standing on a road atop a dike, holding his bicycle and staring upward at the passing formation. The roar of the combined aircraft engines, the blue skies, and the Lilliputian scenery passing below combined to create a dream-like atmosphere while other aspects of the flight remained realistic.
I scanned the fuselage and floor of the aircraft looking for flak or bullet holes. Of course, the troopers in the plane were very real, but the involuntary silence imposed by the engine noise created a peculiar environment. Normally, these men were a tight knit group held together by strong bonds; however, at this moment each man was an island. In a short space of two hours, sixteen or seventeen men at most had been crammed into the aircraft's cargo compartment and transported from a secure and relatively safe life in England to a hostile life threatening environment. Soon we would jump behind the enemy's lines and remain there for an undetermined period. Rarely have I felt more alone. Intelligence briefings reported the presence of barge mounted flak guns on the Dutch canals. These barges could be rapidly repositioned so I was not surprised to receive a note from the pilot informing me of flak ahead. He recommended we hook up and be prepared to jump immediately if the aircraft took a serious hit. After issuing the necessary commands I moved to the open door where I had a better view. The pilot issued a verbal warning when we were ten minutes from our Drop Zone (DZ). Four minutes out the red light came on.
A minute or two passed. The aircraft's crew chief shouted in my ear that flak barges directly on our flight path would force the formation to change course slightly to the north of our intended DZ. As we passed over the Waal Maas Canal, one of our check points, I watched the lead aircraft in the formation for the silk of my battalion commander's (LTC Benjamin H. Vandervoort) chute - our signal to jump. We had descended to drop altitude, 600 feet above the ground. The green light went on and I saw Vandervoort's silk appear beneath his plane. After hitting the toggle switches that released the six pararack bundles, I gave the door bundle a shove and followed it out the door. My parachute opened and I oscillated once or twice before I landed in a large open field along with hundreds of other jumpers. A German machine gun was firing from a position several hundred meters away. The battle was joined.
James J. Meyers 1st Lt., Company D, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82d Airborne Division.