Brave Men of World War II

by Thomas D. Potter
(son of PVT George L. Potter, Jr., E Co, 2nd BN, 506th PIR, Feb 43-Nov 45)
Copyright 2003

NOTE: all of the color photographs in this article were taken by MAJ Joseph C. Antrim (C-47 pilot, 437th Troop Carrier Group), and some of these pictures have never before been published. Please contact Thomas Potter at tpotter7@surewest.net before using or reproducing any of the photos or text contained in this story.

C-47 Above the Clouds
Headed for war-torn Europe, a C-47 skims just above the cloud tops


Resupply of Bastogne, 12/23/44
The resupply of Bastogne, Belgium December 23, 1944

While a cold and thick autumn mist settled in among the broken pines and the black battle scarred snowdrifts, eight German divisions had completely encircled the 101st Airborne at a small and unassuming Belgium town called Bastogne. During this time of great worldwide conflict, the 101st Airborne would make history by boldly and tenaciously holding their position against an overwhelming German opposition of military might. The Battle of the Bulge, the Nazi regime's last great offensive of World War II had just begun.

I have had the honor and the privilege to have met some of these brave men of World War II. They have become some of my dearest of friends and I will always respect and remember what they did for our country at a time when the whole world seemed to be at war. This story will focus on the reminiscences of just a few of the brave men whose paths had eventually and historically intertwined at the crossroads of Bastogne. The following are their stories.

D-Day

Richard M. Wright hated the killing, the death, and the carnage of war. He had lost some of his closest of friends such as Terrence "Salty" Harris, who was killed on the green fields of Normandy by a German sniper bullet, and Walter L. Moore, who was severely injured by a demolition explosion that sent him back to the states even before D-Day. But Wright faithfully did his job and his duty. Wright was a Pathfinder from E-company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne. As a paratrooper he had volunteered to become a Pathfinder, acknowledging, "It was probably the quickest way to get into the fight against the evil tyranny of Nazi domination that had overwhelmed and brutalized most of Europe." The Pathfinders were destined to be the first paratroopers into combat. Wright added, "They explained to us that it was a suicide mission and I just felt that I had to volunteer for it." Their mission was to set up the top secret radar transmitters called Eureka units, along with Holophane lights and brightly colored panels to help guide in the vast armadas of C-47's carrying tens of thousands of American and Allied paratroopers and gliders to their selected drop and landing zones. Being a Pathfinder was not an easy job. It meant being out in front of the pack and facing most of the German army head-on and alone, thus being in a dangerous and costly position.

Pathfinder Plane 4

Pathfinder Plane 4, shot down on D-Day.

Standing (all but Jackson are from 2nd BN, 506th PIR):
(L-R): PVT Charles Partlow (D Co)
; CPL Richard Wright (E Co); PVT Henry Meehan (D Co, bodyguard);
1SG Charles R. Malley (F Co); Carl L. Fenstermaker (E Co);
PFC Robert R. Blankenship (D Co, bodyguard;
KIA Belgium)
; PFC John W. Wright (D Co); PVT James William (Bill) Wheeler (HQ); CPL Calvin Jackson
(326th ABN Engineers);
Stephen Pustola (F Co); PVT John White (D Co); 1LT Gordon O. Rothwell (D Co);
CPL Jack E. Mattz (D Co, bodyguard; KIA Holland); 2LT Rolf Michaelis (D Co; bodyguard team leader);
Frederick Linacre (D Co, bodyguard);
PFC John Sherbon (D Co, bodyguard; KIA Bastogne); PFC Lachlan
Macpherson "Mac" Tillman (D Co)

Sitting (L-R): Waters (radio operator); Preston Corsa (navigator); Clyde Taylor (pilot); Hal Sperber
(co-pilot); Marvin Blackburn (crew chief);
PVT Jerome E. Werbela (D Co, bodyguard)

During the late evening hours of June 5 th 1944, with faces blackened and weapons checked and rechecked, Wright and the other pathfinders laboriously loaded into their airborne C-47 troop carriers destined for German occupied Normandy, France. In Chalk number four, Wright and the rest of his stick would be one of the leading planes in the invasion of northern Europe. Drop time was scheduled for shortly after midnight on the 6th of June, D-Day. At the controls of his plane were pilot Captain Clyde E. Taylor and copilot Harold H. Sperber of the IX Troop Carrier Command Pathfinder Group of the 9th Air Force.

They departed England during the dark but moonlit hours over the Isle of Wight, flying at extremely low altitudes while maintaining complete radio silence. Below them were thousands of ships loaded with American and allied warriors who would shortly confront the Germans on the Normandy beaches. Wright was lost deep in his thoughts and praying to God that he would survive this time of great endeavor and uncertainty. As they encountered the Normandy coast, the German army was ready and waiting for them. "Suddenly all hell broke loose with all sorts of antiaircraft fire with blue, green, and red hot tracer bullets coming up to greet us," said Wright. An explosion in the left engine caused pilot Taylor of Wright's Pathfinder plane to immediately feather the left propeller, which initiated a right turn in the plane's flight path. Copilot Hal Sperber quickly pushed the aircraft's nose down to avoid a near collision with the other Pathfinder plane in their tight V formation. With a full load of Pathfinders, the troopers with their heavy equipment and gear, the C-47 had quickly begun to lose altitude. Being much too low to jump and with no safe place to land, the men were forced to dump their equipment and gear out the door of the C-47 and head back out to open sea. The one remaining engine began to glow red from the excessive load required of it and as the props hit the surface of the waves, the men braced themselves for ditching in the dark, frigid waters of the English Channel. As a jolting wall of water enveloped the plane, the Pathfinders and aircrew went out the open door and into the waves of the Channel with many of the men desperately clinging to a single life raft. All of the men had miraculously survived the forced ditching as they swam, nervously waiting for rescue by the British Destroyer the H.M.S. Tartar. After rescue, "with a front row seat to the largest invasion in history," as Sperber said, the crew of the British destroyer gave the men a much-needed shot of hot buttered rum. Wright and his fellow Pathfinders were lucky to be alive, thanks to the heroic efforts of the troop carrier pilots.

By noontime of June 6th, Wright and the rest of the men were transferred to Air Sea Rescue and quickly taken back to Southampton, England for questioning and debriefing. Their top-secret mission in the invasion of Normandy was over before it started, but all were grateful to be alive.

Donald P. Bolce wanted to be a pilot but because of a minor vision problem, he volunteered to become a radio operator on a C-47 instead. Bolce was proud to be a part of the 437th Troop Carrier Group, an airborne group who flew the paratroopers and supplies into combat. And on June the 6th, 1944, Bolce found himself flying toward the Normandy coast.

In a recent letter, Bolce wrote, "Taking off from Membury, England, I was flying as a radio operator for the Normandy invasion. We were the lead plane in the 2nd flight of nine aircraft from the 85th Troop Carrier Squadron, which was part of the 437th Troop Carrier Group. The weather started to close in and the fog started getting very thick. As we broke through the fog our wingmen, Lt. Melvin Fredette off our right wing and Lt. Eckblad on our left wing, were still with us. As we picked up the airborne pathfinder's Eureka radar signal with our Rebecca set on the plane, we were caught in the beams of two German searchlights. The beams were so intense that they lit up the cockpit as bright as day. Antiaircraft fire began coming up to our plane but the German gunners were leading us too much, thus the tracers were out in front of the cockpit. Suddenly the bright searchlights went out; but the tracers were still coming up at us. From the incredible noise of the antiaircraft fire, we thought we were taking direct hits, but we were not. From the clear astro dome of our C-47, I could clearly see the other eight planes in our flight behind us. The ground fire was so intense that I wasn't sure if we could make it to the DZ. As we neared the lighted "T" of our DZ, the pilot shouted, "Green Light!" I signaled with the use of my Aldis Lamp from the astrodome to all the other planes to drop their paratroopers. I give enormous credit to the Airborne Pathfinders who set up the Eureka sets and lights on the DZ, right in the middle of the Germans who were shooting at us and no doubt at them, too."

Bolce continues, "That night as we approached the Normandy coast, I went back into the cabin to talk to some of the paratroopers who would soon be jumping into France. I met a young trooper from San Francisco. I was from Oakland right across from the San Francisco bay. We exchanged names and addresses and vowed to get together after the war. While over the drop zone, I watched him jump into the darkness with the other paratroopers. I later somehow lost his name and address but I can still see his face. I wonder if he made it through the war. So many, many did not."

Operation Market Garden Pathfinders

Airborne Pathfinders - Holland Mission.

Standing (L-R): PVT Charles H. Partlow (D Co, 2nd BN); 1LT Gordon O. Rothwell (D Co, 2nd BN);
James E. Benson (HQ, 3rd BN); SGT John Roseman (A Co, 1st BN); Del T. Ripple Jr. (HQ, 3rd BN);
PFC Carl L. Fenstermaker (E Co, 2nd BN); LT Gordon DeRamus (D Co, 2nd BN)
Kneeling (L-R): CPL Richard M. Wright (E Co, 2nd BN); Stephen Pustola (F Co, 2nd BN);
T/5 George H. Blain (HQ, 1st BN); PFC Lachlan Macpherson "Mac" Tillman (D Co, 2nd BN)

Operation Market Garden

The next foray into battle for Wright would be one of the largest airborne operations in history with the newly formed 1st Allied Airborne Army, the ill-fated "Operation Market Garden" offensive across the lower Rhine into Holland. On a beautiful, bright and sunny morning on September 17th, 1944, Wright and his fellow Pathfinders once again loaded into their C-47's to lead the way into Holland. Their takeoff field was Chalgrove in Oxfordshire. There were only six Pathfinder planes utilized for Holland. Two Pathfinder planes were designated for the 82th Airborne enroute to the Nijmegen area while four other Pathfinder planes were used for the 101st Airborne for its assigned drop zones near Son and Veghel, just north of Eindhoven.

The 101st Pathfinder planes took heavy antiaircraft fire over Holland. As a result, one of the planes was shot down during the flight, killing many of the young pathfinders. Wright prayed that he would make it to the drop zone alive. Flying low and fast over the beautiful open fields of Holland, the Pathfinders had finally reached their designated drop zones where they quickly jumped from their C-47's into clear, blue skies. Upon landing, the Pathfinders wasted little time in setting up their Eureka Beacons, colored panels and smoke grenades, for the rest of the Airborne armadas would soon be arriving. Wright remarked, "As the day progressed, I watched horrified as I counted at least seventeen C-47s and many of the gliders on fire. Some of the planes crashed and burst into flames, killing all on board. It made me sick to my stomach thinking about all the men who didn't make it." Wright spent nearly a week on the DZ to help guide in the following re-supply missions.

The American 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions did manage to liberate many Dutch towns along "Hells Highway," including the wonderful and gracious citizens of Eindhoven, but the British 1st Airborne Division was virtually annihilated at Arnhem. The Arnhem bridge had literally become, "a bridge too far." Wright's company ended up fighting the Germans for nearly the next two months in Holland and the road into Germany would have to be taken by a different path. Wright was eventually sent back to England where he would prepare for his next jump into the Ardennes.

Don Bolce describes one of his missions over Holland: "When we started flying over Holland, I was surprised to see the vast areas of flooding deliberately caused by the Germans. They had simply broken the dikes. I knew this would be a long flight, but I wished that we could get to the LZ soon in order to drop our glider and head for home. Shortly after leaving the flooded area, we had begun to encounter tremendous flack. I climbed up into the astro dome where I could see all of our C-47s towing their CG-4A gliders. Suddenly, from directly behind our plane, I could see a bright glow from one of our C-47's. Immediately the glider cut loose and headed down into enemy territory. I kept my eyes focussed on the burning aircraft as the fire raged, but still no parachutes. I could not recognize which 85th squadron aircraft this one was and I found myself silently screaming, 'Get out of there!'

"The C-47, now almost completely engulfed by flames, started down toward the ground. Still no chutes! 'Get out of there! Get out of there!' I screamed at the stricken plane. The plane slammed into the ground with a tremendous explosion with orange flames and black smoke that seemed to have risen hundreds of feet almost instantly. This sight horribly shook me. I felt total sorrow and anguish for the poor men who were now dead though I had no idea who they were. But our mission to deliver our glider was still ahead of us. Since I was the only one to witness the burning aircraft go down, I notified the crew and put my earphones back on. I could then hear the pilots up ahead of us breaking radio silence and yelling to the other planes that so and so had been hit and is going down or that heavy flack was dead ahead! There was plenty of ground fire as we approached the LZ, but we had made it and were not hit! We could see numerous C-47's on the ground burning with only the vertical stabilizer showing through the flames and the ashes. We cut our glider loose and dropped our tow rope as we headed back to Ramsbury, England."

Bolce concludes, "Market Garden had left its mark on all of us, whether aircrews, glider crews, paratroopers, or glider infantry. We will never forget our baptism of fear!"

Air Crew

Ramsbury, England 1944.

Standing (L-R): Pilot Joe Antrim, copilot Floyd Kelly and navigator Joe Salisbury.
Kneeling (L-R): Radio operator Don Bolce and crew chief George Montgomery.


Battle of the Bulge / Bastogne

As a cold, white snow fell silently on the Ardennes forest, December 16, 1944, Hitler launched his massive surprise attack along a sixty-mile front, taking the Americans by complete surprise. The Battle of the Bulge had begun. By utilizing 250,000 German soldiers and nearly a 1000 tanks and assault guns, the Germans smashed through the lightly defended American line. A German break-through in the Ardennes had stunningly caught the Americans off guard. Hitler's objective was to penetrate overwhelmingly through the American front by using three panzer armies to split the Allied armies in the Ardennes, to reach the Meuse River in three days, and then to victoriously take the port of Antwerp.

Out of the thick fog and frozen forest they came. German Tiger and Panther tanks supported by thousands of revengeful infantry sliced through the American lines. Town after besieged town began to fall to the German onslaught with savage and brutal fighting all along the desperate front. As Hitler declared, "The battle must be fought with brutality and resistance must be broken in a wave of terror." By the l9th of December, after days of vicious and horrific fighting, seven thousand Americans surrendered to the Germans at Saint-Vith, the largest surrender of American forces in the European Theater of Operations.

Bastogne was to become the key to the battle. Control of its network of roads and railway systems was a critical and highly sought after military objective by both the Americans and the Germans. By the dreadful night of the 20th of December, the 101st Airborne found themselves completely surrounded at the besieged town of Bastogne along with the 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion and elements of the 10th Armored Division. The 101st would form a defensive perimeter by digging foxholes into the hard and cold snow around the outskirts of the Bastogne forested area. The 101st held their position and beat back the determined and repeated attacks by overwhelming German forces. The "Battered Bastards of Bastogne" would hold the line.

Due to the severely overcast and foggy weather conditions, the scheduled resupply airdrops had been delayed. A critical lack of ammunition, artillery, gas, food, warm clothes and medical supplies were mounting and of great concern to the paratroopers. The outlook looked very grim to the defenders of Bastogne. On the 22 of December the Germans under a white flag demanded the surrender of the American forces defending Bastogne. McAuliffe's defiant response of "Nuts!" galvanized the 101st but enraged the fanatical leader of the Nazi regime. Hitler ordered his additional forces to take Bastogne in order to, "crush and annihilate the American defenders."

By the morning of the 23 of December the weather had finally broken. Clear blue skies and bright sunshine greeted the invigorated airborne troops. Paratroopers from all around the perimeter climbed out of their frozen foxholes. They laughed and danced in the bright sunshine, knowing relief from the skies would soon be arriving. In the far distance a low drone of aircraft engines could be heard. Two beautiful C-47 troop carrier planes carrying Richard Wright and the Pathfinders slowly circled over the frozen, snow covered fields of the besieged town of Bastogne.

Wright had flown into Bastogne on Colonel Joel L. Crouch's C-47, the two planes supporting the Troop Carrier Pathfinder Group of aircraft. All of the Pathfinders who jumped into Bastogne originated from the 506th PIR, 101st Airborne, with a total of ten Pathfinders jumping from each plane. Two other E-company men accompanied Wright on this flight into Bastogne. Carl L. Fenstermaker, who had been shot down on D-Day with Wright, and Lavonne P. Reese, who was making his first jump as a Pathfinder. "I prayed for the best navigator that ever lived," said Wright. "That hole in the doughnut might have only been a mile and a half across and the navigator and pilot put us right on the DZ."

Wright, with the first stick of Pathfinders, landed softly on the snow covered and crater-strewn fields just southwest of Bastogne. They quickly and gratefully determined that they had landed within the safety of the American perimeter. Under intense small arms fire from the Germans, Crouch made his daring "long turn" over the dark forest surrounding Bastogne. The Pathfinders then set off an orange smoke grenade indicating that all was well, which allowed the second stick of Pathfinders to make their jump. This information was quickly relayed back by Crouch to their base in England for the go-ahead of the urgently needed and shortly to follow resupply missions.

The Pathfinders, while under enemy fire, quickly laid out their fluorescent orange panels on the white snow. One Pathfinder, Jack Agnew from HHQ Demolitions Platoon, set up his Eureka unit on top of a large brick pile which enabled the Eureka to send out a clear radar signal to the Rebecca sets on the incoming C-47's. By the late afternoon of December 23, 1944, 241 C-47's of Troop Carrier Command delivered many tons of urgently needed supplies to the joyous and thankful 101st Airborne.

View from Waco CG-4A Glider
The view seen from a Waco CG-4A glider: a C-47 and its tow rope in view

The C-47 troop carriers flew unwavering through the cold, clear and flack-ridden skies guided by the navigational aids set up by Wright and the two pathfinder teams at Bastogne. The air crews could see the burning remains of towns and villages, twisted half-tracks and smoking tanks, the carnage of war all below them and all noticeably black against the white snow.

"When the weather finally cleared on December 23rd, the 437th Troop Carrier Group took off from Ramsbury, England for Bastogne. We had four squadrons, each with eighteen planes for a total of seventy-two C-47's. Under the planes in racks, we had parapacks, which could be released frtom the pilots' compartment and parabundles inside the plane. These we pushed out the open door with static lines in place to open the chutes," recalled Don Bolce.

"We led the second flight of nine C-47's with the 85th Squadron. Joe Antrim and Floyd Kelly were the pilots, Joe Salisbury our navigator, George Montgomery our crew chief, and I was the radio and Rebecca Receiver operator. We were told that there might be a Eureka transmitter to lead us to the DZ, so we carefully navigated our way across the English Channel and France toward Bastogne. When we got within twenty-five miles of Bastogne, we picked up the signal on our Rebecca Receiver. We then followed the signal right to the DZ.

"As we neared Bastogne we could see snow everywhere. We removed the door as we prepared to push the parabundles out over the DZ. I could see German half-tracks with 88mm guns come out of the dark woods to my left. They began shooting their deadly flack directly at our plane, but thankfully their range was short. There were many puffs of black smoke but we never did get hit.

"When we reached the DZ the pilots gave us the green light and we quickly pushed the parabundles out the open door of the C-47. 1 could see the colored smoke and bright panels on the white snow below us. The supplies had been delivered to the defenders of Bastogne!" Bolce concluded.

Major Joseph C. Antrim was a pilot on Bolce's C-47 flying with the 437th Troop Carrier Group. Major Antrim and Bolce had flown together on many dangerous missions throughout the war. Antrim had carried with him a small Leica camera during his many combat missions including D-Day, Dragoon, Market Garden, and Varsity, taking hundreds of fascinating pictures along the way.

On Antrim's second mission during the Southern France operation called "Dragoon," he dropped brave paratroopers like Jack Delmage of the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion. This same battalion along with the tough and well-seasoned 82nd Airborne Division would later take horrendous casualties during their heroic fighting in the northern sector of the Bulge.

During the resupply mission of December 23, 1944, just moments before flying over Bastogne, Antrim snapped four incredible color slides of the besieged town. Antrim recalls, "I flew in the right hand seat as operational officer during the resupply of Bastogne. With the aid of my binoculars, I could see Bastogne in the far distance. As we approached under German flack and small arms fire, I quickly grabbed my camera and took four pictures only seconds apart from one another. The first of the pictures was of the C-47's directly in front of us dropping their resupplies. The rest of the pictures were taken more off to our northeast with much more of Bastogne and the battle in view. With our mission successfully accomplished, we headed for home."

Antrim's four pictures tell the story of Bastogne, of death and destruction and of hope: the black charred remnants of a crashed C-47 on the white snow below, the battle-scarred and crater-strewn covered fields and blue skies behind brightly colored billowing parachutes.

Lt. General Harry W.O. Kinnard, General McAuliffe's Assistant Chief of Staff G-3 during the siege of Bastogne, has recently written the following insightful letter to me about his personal reflections regarding Joe Antrim's two color pictures of the troop carrier resupply missions of December 23, 1944. General Kinnard wrote:

Lt. General Harry W. O. Kinnard
January 16, 2003

Dear Tom,

As I opened your package and saw the two remarkable photos of our aerial resupply, a flood of memories danced through my head.

In my mind's eye I recalled a soldier who saw his shadow on the snow. He began an Indian war dance whooping, hollering, jumping and stomping. He fully realized the importance to us of a break in the weather, which would permit air operations. Then I saw all the retrieval teams running for the precious bundles, which they correctly interpreted as assurance that we could, and would, hold Bastogne. It was a once- in-a-lifetime occasion, which all who were there will never forget.

Until I received your initial phone call, I had no idea that color pictures of that drop existed. How great that they were made and how miraculous that they were resurrected from the shoebox.

I am most grateful, Tom, for the pictures which I will treasure for the memories which they evoke.

Many thanks and all the best,
Harry Kinnard

Gerry C. Cataline and George A. Babich were close friends during the war. Both flew with the 437th Troop Carrier Group. Before combat missions over Europe, Cataline would put on his catcher's mitt and Babich would work on his pitching arm. Babich, a radio operator flying most of the major Troop Carrier missions over Europe including the resupply missions over Bastogne, went on to play professional baseball after the war as a southpaw pitcher with the Saint Louis Browns.

Cataline, a crew chief on a C-47, made several resupply missions over the flack-filled skies of Bastogne. He recalled, "As I was standing at the open door of my plane with the cold wind whistling through the cabin, I could clearly see the fields of snow and the black smoke rising from Bastogne as I quickly pushed out the heavy jerry cans full of gasoline. In the distance American dive bombers and fighters were strafing the enemy positions. As I helplessly watched, a P-51 pulled steeply up, apparently hit by German groundfire, the Mustang going inverted and the pilot bailing out under his white parachute drifting down into German held territory. To this very day I wonder if the pilot made it back to the American lines alive."

Towing a Waco CG-4A Glider
A C-47 tows a Waco glider, the clear astrodome reflecting the afternoon sunlight

Curtis Smith, a medic with the 506th D-company, 101st Airborne, was dug in at Bastogne when a German shell landed nearby and blew him out of his foxhole. Smith cleaned and bandaged his own wounds from the hot shrapnel fragments and returned to duty.

On December 27th, Smith watched as a burning C-47 flew low over the snow-covered fields just above the Bastogne perimeter. "The whole back of the plane was engulfed by flames and trailing behind it a cloud of thick black smoke. I saw one man jump out through the flames of the open door of the plane. Another man, I presumed the pilot, climbed out over the hatch above the cockpit. As the pilot crawled on his hands and knees toward the rear of the plane, he slid off its side and hit the rear horizontal stabilizer. The pilot's parachute immediately deployed over the stabilizer as he fell underneath it. Then, with the shroud lines wrapped around the stabilizer, the pilot frantically pulled and jerked at his shroud lines as he tried desperately to free himself as he dangled behind the burning C-47. Watching, I thought to myself, 'My god, he's going down with his plane!' Just at that same moment the plane exploded and the pilot was blown free to safely land on the snow nearby. I quickly ran to his aid as he sat dazed on the frozen snow, and I could clearly see the small burns on his face and his smoldering flight jacket caused by the melted aluminum burning off the plane. The pilot's first comment was, 'Did my buddy make it out OK?' "

Fifty-eight years later, Curtis Smith discovered the pilot's name, Joe Fry. He was the pilot that Curtis had given aid to on the dangerous fields of Bastogne. Fry, who flew with the 91st Squadron of the 439th Troop Carrier Group, his C-47 hit by German flack and on fire, had courageously pulled his CG-4A glider for many miles trying to reach Bastogne. Fry ordered his crew to bail out but his copilot, George Weisfeld, stayed with Joe and the plane until the glider pilot cut loose over the Bastogne perimeter. Both men on that C-47 had miraculously survived to fly again.

Resupply Parachutes over Bastogne
The resupply of Bastogne, December 23, 1944



Near the American Perimeter
The battle for Bastogne rages as smoke billows into a clear blue sky near the American perimeter.



C-47 Crash Site
The resupply of Bastogne, December 23, 1944: a C-47 crash site is noticeably in view.

By the afternoon of December 26, advance elements of the 4th Armored Division penetrated through the southern sector of the German lines surrounding Bastogne. A narrow corridor now existed that allowed the much needed supplies and armor to reach the fighting men of Bastogne. Although the German siege was now broken, some of the heaviest of fighting still lay ahead for the 101st Airborne as they prepared to go on the offensive. Slowly, with mounting casualties on both sides, the Americans pushed the Germans back to their Fatherland.

Richard Wright had spent nearly a month in the vicinity of Bastogne and at times under heavy shelling and artillery fire. During that dark Christmas Eve, as German bombers roared overhead, the chateau where Wright and some of the pathfinders had billeted in took a direct hit from a bomb dropped by the German Luftwaffe. On that nightmarish evening all of these Pathfinders had miraculously survived, but the indiscriminate bombing of Bastogne killed many other American soldiers, paratroopers, and civilians. Bastogne was left in ruins.

When General Patton arrived in Bastogne, he wanted to meet some of the Pathfinders who had parachuted into the American perimeter. Wright recalled, "General Patton shook the men's hands as he complimented us on our successful jump into Bastogne." Many of the pathfinders later rejoined their original companies or did reconnaissance missions and intelligence gathering duties. Wright remarked, "I came into Bastogne on a parachute and left on the back of a truck, thankful to still be alive."

Under a dark and misty sky, dug in near a tall and snow-draped pine at the very edges of the Bastogne perimeter, one particular paratrooper clutched his M1 rifle as he quietly shivered in his freezing foxhole thinking of home. Though his feet were partially frozen, the trooper continued to watch intently into the darkness of night for any unknown movement across the front lines that overlooked the German occupied town of Foy. This nineteen-year-old kid had dropped out of his senior year of high school to fight the Germans in a foreign land. His name was George L. Potter, my father, who along with his band of brothers held the line in this battle for Bastogne.

C-47's in Formation
C-47's flying in formation above the cloud tops

IX Troop Carrier Command played a vital role in the defense of Bastogne. According to Charles H. Young's monumental book Into The Valley, from December 23rd-27th, 927 C-47 sorties delivered 2,090,000 pounds of urgently needed supplies to the 101st Airborne but at a tremendous cost. An estimated twenty-six unarmed and unarmored C-47's and many of the gliders were shot down in flames and destroyed during their daring flights into and over Bastogne. Some of the planes crash-landed inside the American perimeter after being badly damaged by German flack. Many C-47's that had made it back to their bases were so shot up they could never be used again. Also, a large number of the troop carrier aircrews were killed, captured, or badly injured. We owe these men a tremendous amount of gratitude for what they had accomplished and sacrificed at Bastogne, the Bulge and their other critical combat missions throughout World War II.

The Battle of the Bulge was the single largest military engagement ever fought by American soldiers during World War II. Nearly 80,000 Americans were killed, badly wounded or captured during this horrific test of courage and endurance. Roughly 4,000 Americans lost their lives at or near Bastogne alone. Losses in guns, planes, tanks and equipment had been enormous on both sides. But in the final analysis of the war the Americans and their Allies would be decisively victorious. All Americans need to know about World War II and never forget the appalling cost in lives or the courageous men who fought these epic battles.

Off to War
Off to war as B-17's form up over England.

A few years ago my two brothers, Tim and Dan, had the great opportunity to retrace our father's wartime footsteps across northern Europe. While visiting the green fields of Normandy, they encountered a kind and elderly American paratrooper touring with his young grandson. As tears slowly streaked down his face, the paratrooper quietly reminisced about his combat experiences in Normandy, Holland, and Bastogne and of his close buddies killed in combat. The paratrooper made one remark that stuck in the minds of my brothers. He said, "We were all brothers during the war, united by combat, extreme fear, tears and friendships. At times men were fighting alone and at times side by side, all united in a common goal; victory and freedom."

Thank you -- Brave Men of World War II.



Thomas D. Potter
Author Thomas D. Potter (son of PVT George L. Potter, Jr., E/2-506th PIR, Feb 43-Nov 45)
on Utah Beach, Normandy, France, where he attended the June 6, 2001 World
Premiere of the HBO Band of Brothers miniseries.



July 2003 Reunion

Reunion photograph taken in Carmichael, CA on July 12, 2003
(L-R):
Gerry Cataline, Don Bolce, Tom Potter, Hal Sperber, Joe Antrim, Richard Wright

All of these men were mentioned in the story Brave Men of World War II. This was the first reunion between Pathfinder Pilot Hal Sperber and Airborne Pathfinder Richard Wright since being shot down together on June 6, 1944, D-Day!

Crew Chief Gerry Cataline, Radio Operator Don Bolce, and Pilot Joe Antrim all flew with the 437th Troop Carrier Group. While under German ground fire, Joe Antrim took this incredible picture (enlarged and framed) of the resupply of Bastogne on December 23, 1944, from the cockpit of his C-47. All of these men flew several dangerous resupply missions over Bastogne, Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge. Pathfinder Richard Wright parachuted into besieged Bastogne on December 23, 1944.




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506th Airborne Infantry Regiment Association (Airmobile - Air Assault)
This page updated 04/06/13