June 5, 1944 23:50
As we loaded onto the C-47, I wondered if it was going to be another false alarm. Yesterday, the weather had forced us to abort, but tonight the planes took off. I had the feeling that this was the night I would die for sure. I had gotten less than three hours shut-eye, and I floated between sleep and consciousness as we flew toward our drop zone.
I had done night drops in the English countryside over the last month, but this was the real deal, behind enemy lines. Few of us in the 101 st Airborne had experienced combat yet. That would change drastically over the next month, for those that would survive the next 24 hours.
My stomach churned. A few guys talked, but most were silent as the plane bounced in the sky. The air was thick with cigarette smoke. I fought the urge to puke.
As we entered the DZ, flak became heavy. The plane rocked heavily with the turbulence that the flak caused, and guys started vomiting. I had a strong urge to scream. My ears popped as the plane quickly climbed to a different altitude to avoid the flak.
Finally, the order came, and we lined up on the door. Funny thing about the army; it’s not so much that you obey orders. It’s more that they train you to not think, to be an automaton. You just follow the guy in front of you, and hope he knows what the fuck he’s doing.
I could hear the barking of my sergeant in the background, but the words didn’t register. I just followed the guy in front of me, and the guy behind followed me. When my turn came at the door, the sergeant pushed me out, and I was floating.
I’ve never in my life been so scared. We were sitting ducks for the German machine guns, and I knew at any second the sky would light up with their searchlights. The fall took forever; I couldn’t get to the ground quickly enough.
The ground rushed up at me, and I rolled head over heels as I landed. I reeled in my chute as I had been trained, bundling it into a ball, then stashed it in the crook of a tree.
I could hear small arms fire all around, but none of it seemed very close to me. I figured I must have somehow become separated from my unit. Of course, later I learned just what a cluster fuck the whole operation turned out to be.
The pathfinders in charge of setting up the radar transponders that would mark the drop zone had failed to set them up. The heavy flak had caused the pilots to leave their assigned elevation, in many cases, and they were dropping guys too high or, worse yet, too low to the ground, spreading them wide of their intended drop zone. And the smoke and clouds made it tough for the pilots to get visual on the landmarks they were looking for.
Bottom line, they scattered us all over the fucking place, except where we were supposed to be. I had no clue where I was, or where my unit was. I just knew I was supposed to rendezvous at some fucking burg called Sainte-Mere-Eglise.
The ground was muddy from the pouring rain over the last few days, and as my boots stuck in the muck, the water flowed into my shoes, soaking my feet. I looked around for my buddies, but I couldn’t see shit, and I damn sure wasn’t going to call out. I made myself small, hunkering to the ground, and kept quiet. After a while, I realized I was alone. My instructions, in this case, were to work in concentric circles, ever widening, until I joined my unit. I was so scared, I didn’t want to move, but I knew I couldn’t stay there.
I unshouldered my weapon and began moving as a mist fell. My heart raced, as I expected to encounter German troops at any moment. As the minutes turned into hours, I struggled to keep up my guard, trying to remember everything I’d been trained to do.
I kept stepping in holes and slipping, so when I saw a road, I decided to forget the circling routine and just see where the road took me. It wasn’t much of a road, not even paved, but the nice thing about roads is that they eventually lead somewhere, and usually have signs that tell you where you’re going.
I figured I had overshot my target to the west. If I had landed too far east, the shore defenses would have shot us before we even hit the ground. So I headed east. I stumbled along, barely awake. Suddenly, I saw something ahead.
I approached cautiously. The clouds blocked the moonlight, and I squinted, trying to see. It appeared there was someone sitting on the ground, leaning against a tree.
As I approached, I could tell that it was a kraut from his helmet. His chin was on his chest, apparently asleep. I dreaded firing my weapon, knowing that it would attract every German in the area. I slowly approached, ready to fire. My heart raced, and every fiber in my body was tight as a drum.
Suddenly, I heard a voice say, “Il est mort”.
I almost soiled myself when I heard that voice, and I swung my weapon toward where I heard the voice coming from, then back toward the kraut. Amazingly, he was still asleep.
“NON, NON, OK, Joe, Non, Non, OK.”
I hesitated; it appeared to be a young girl’s voice. She stepped from the darkness with her hands above her. Pointing at the German, she ran a finger across her throat, saying, “ffftt”.
I put my heel against him and pushed, and he fell over. He was dead. I guess some of my buddies had been this way earlier. I raised my weapon and pointed it at the woman.
“Non, Non, OK, Joe. Parlez-vous francais?”
I squinted in the darkness. I couldn’t see her clearly, but from her voice, she appeared to be French, a local.
“OK, Joe, OK,” she said again, as she held her hands up above her head.
I lowered my rifle, and she repeated, “Parlez-vous francais?”
“Much little,” she said, holding two fingers barely apart.
“You seen any other men?” I asked.
She shrugged her shoulders, uncomprehending.
“Americans?” I tried.
She shook her head.
“Well, that Jerry didn’t die of natural causes, I don’t imagine,” I said. “Are you lying?”
She said nothing. I used my boot to turn the kraut over. There was a hole in the back of his head. I pointed at him, and the girl shrugged, as if to say she didn’t know what happened.
Then it occurred to me that she might have stumbled on the place just like I did. I studied her more carefully. She wore a green dress. It didn’t look home-made. From the looks of it, she might have been a city girl. There were lots of displaced locals.
At the time, I thought she was an old woman, but looking back, she was probably no more than twenty two or three. I was barely sixteen, not even shaving regularly yet. I had lied about my age to enlist; I was tall for my age, and the enlistment officers didn’t look too closely, they had their numbers to make. My mom almost shit when she found out, but my old man took care of her for me.
What would a city girl be doing in the middle of nowhere, near the drop zone? Was she a member of the French resistance? Or a German spy?
She pointed at my pack, then pointed at her mouth and rubbed her belly.
“Nourriture?” she said.
I figured out she was asking for food. I opened my pack and gave her a chocolate bar. She practically ate the paper, she gobbled it down so quickly. She acted like she hadn’t eaten in a month.
Just then, the night exploded with dozens of bombs. It had to be miles from us, but it lit up the night sky.
The girl became very excited, and said, “Amerique arrivee?” She grabbed the lapel of my shirt in her excitement and repeated, over and over again “Amerique arrivee?”
“Yeah,” I said, taking her hands off my shirt.
There was a constant drone of B-24s overhead, and so many bombs it was like one continuous concussion that never stopped, rather than individual bombs. God, I was glad I wasn’t wherever those bombs were landing.
Suddenly, we could see a headlight coming, and we ducked into the bush. A motorcycle drove by, followed by three transport trucks, most likely full of krauts being rushed up to the front. So it appeared I had been going the right direction.
Those bombs had stirred up a hornet’s nest. At several locations, many miles away, there were decoy operations to divert the German’s attention from the actual landing site, but this carpet bombing alerted the Germans in the area to reinforce their defenses.
One after another, vehicles of every sort whizzed by us. In between, the woman carefully reached over and grabbed the dead man’s pack. She rifled through it, looking for food I suppose. It had nothing of interest to her, and she threw it back at the body.
Finally I tired of waiting, doing nothing, and asked the girl, “Sainte-Mere-Eglise?”
She stared at me blankly, and I repeated the name several times.
Suddenly her face lit up and she said, “Ahh, Sainte-Mere-Eglise?”
I had been pronouncing it incorrectly.
She pointed northeast.
She said nothing.
She held up ten fingers. So, assuming she understood my question, and assuming she knew the answer, and assuming she was being honest, and assuming I wouldn’t be impeded by the enemy, and assuming I didn’t get lost, I could reach my objective in a couple of hours or so. I looked at my watch; it was 03:20.
Another convoy of vehicles sped by. It was obvious I wasn’t going to be able to use this road, so I set out in the direction the woman had pointed, walking through the fields. The woman followed.
Turning, I waved the back of my hand and said sharply, “Git. Go on. I don’t need company where I’m going.”
The woman stopped, but when I turned and walked off, she continued following me. I stopped several times, but I couldn’t get her to leave. Come to think of it, I don’t know where she would have gone. Cripe, how did she wind up out here in the first place?
All the miles of walking in my wet boots was beginning to wear a blister between two of my toes. It hurt like shit. My gear weighed about 70 pounds, almost half my body weight, so I wasn’t able to cover ground quickly. Not to mention the fact that half the German army was driving past us, and every time we came to an opening, we had to wait for a chance to cross it. When we came to a cross-roads, the girl studied the signs and pointed to the right.
We came to a farmhouse with fields of waist high grain on three sides. Someone had planted and tended these fields, so I approached very carefully, wary of dogs. I planned to give the house a wide berth, but just then another set of headlights appeared, and there was nowhere to hide. We made for the house and hid beside it as the cars zoomed by.
Funny; there were no dogs. Who ever heard of a farm without dogs. Going around the back, we noticed the back door open.
I sneaked up onto the porch, my rifle raised, when suddenly the woman yelled out, “Bonjour, il y a quelqu’un?”
I thought I was going to give birth to a turd, and I hit the deck, certain that a farmer was going to fire at us with his shotgun. But there was no noise. The woman went through the door and I could hear her stumbling in the darkness, bumping into the furniture. I picked myself up and followed her. It was as dark as a well in there, but we felt around and found a place to sit down.
“Cigarette?” she asked.
I reached in my pocket and pulled out the pack of Lucky Strikes that I had been given before takeoff. I hadn’t smoked any, afraid of lighting a match. I gave her one, and took one myself, then reached into my pocket and grabbed a box of matches.
Lighting the match, I held it to her cigarette, then lit my own. We sat there, smoking in the dark, the house shaking from the rumbling of the bombs in the distance. In the glow from her cigarette as she inhaled, I studied her face. She wasn’t bad looking. She had dark hair, wavy, and she was tall; almost as tall as me. Her face was pleasant, and she had pale, white skin.
She pointed to herself and said, “Therese.”
Then she pointed to me, and said, “Comment vous appellez-vous?”
I could tell she was asking my name.
“Ryan,” I said. “Rick Ryan.”
“Ryan Rick Ryan,” she said, repeating it.
“No. Just Rick Ryan.”
“Just Rick Ryan.”
“No,” I said, smiling. “Rick.”
“Ah, Rick. Rick.”
I had never heard my name sound like she made it sound.
I got up and looked around. The house looked like it had been abandoned hurriedly. Whoever left didn’t bother to pack much; their clothes still hung in the closet, and there were pans on the stove. It was creepy; I had the feeling whoever lived there was going to come in at any moment.
I got up and walked around carefully, feeling my way through the dark house. Opening a door, I saw stairs leading to a cellar. I pulled out my .45 and held it in front of me as I walked down the stairs.
“American,” I said, unsure of how much protection that would offer.
The girl followed me down the steps. It was a root cellar. There were a few beets and potatoes. They had been there a while; there were lots of sprouts growing from the potatoes. Against the wall were a few bottles. The girl examined them, then grabbed one.
We went back up the stairs and set the bottle on the table. The girl started going through the drawers, feeling her way inside them, looking for something to open it with. She couldn’t find anything.
I took my trench knife out of the ankle scabbard I carried it in and took the bottle from her. I poked the cork and start twisting, trying to get the cork out, but the cork just tore until I could no longer get the knife in far enough to reach what was left. She took a butter knife and pushed the rest of the cork into the bottle. Grabbing a couple of small glasses, she poured the contents into them.
I sniffed; it smelled strong, kind of like vinegar. She sniffed it, then took a sip.
“Ah, eau-de-vie,” she said.
I took a sip, and sputtered it out, coughing. It was strong. I had expected it to be wine, but it was something stronger. Looking back later, I realized it was brandy. The girl laughed and took another swig. She asked for another cigarette, and we sat there smoking and drinking, as the sun began to rise. It was 05:20.
Suddenly, the never ending noise from the airplanes and the carpet bombing got even louder, as the 14” guns from the naval ships began pounding the beach defenses. Christ, there couldn’t be anyone left alive after all the bombs those B-24s had dropped, could there?
The constant din from the bombardment had been going on for hours, and my nerves felt shot. The fatigue and sleeplessness were taking their toll on me.
“Vous avez du papier toilette?” she asked.
“Papier toilette,” she repeated, making a motion of wiping her butt.
“Oh, yeah,” I said, grabbing the sheets out of my pack.
She took a couple and went outside to pee. When she got back, I went out the back door and peed off the porch. I guess she noticed me limp from the blister on my toe when I came back in.
She pointed at my foot and asked, “êtes-vous blesse?”
“It’s nothing,” I said, understanding that she had asked about my foot.
She knelt in front of me and began unlacing my boots, then pulled them off. God, did it ever feel good to get those wet boots off my feet.
Grabbing a bucket, she went out back to the water trough. Putting the bucket under the spout, she pumped until water filled the bucket, then she came back into the house. There was some soap near the basin in the kitchen, and she used it to thoroughly wash my feet. Then she wrapped them in a towel and gently dried them.
She set my smelly boots out on the back porch. Then, turning her back to me, she reached behind her and unbuttoned her dress, pulled it over her head and set it over a chair. She used the soap to wash under her arms.
She had dark hair under her arms, like a man. I had never seen a woman undressed, and I never knew they grew hair there. I had seen the pin-ups in the barracks; Rita Hayworth, Jane Russell, Betty Grable. They didn’t have hair under their arms. It never occurred to me then that women had to shave. I was really naïve.
Her white knickers were short, above her knees, and showed a lot of thigh. She was very thin, but I thought she was incredibly sexy. She used the towel to dry under her arms, then turned toward me, giving me the first view of a woman’s chest I had ever seen.
For such a thin girl, her breasts were very full. The nipples sat high and pointed straight ahead. I stared, unable to say anything, as she walked toward me. She sat in my lap and put her arms around my neck. I didn’t know what to do with my hands. Finally, I put them around her waists.
My face was bright red. The smell of her body was strong, despite having washed up under her arms. It was the first time I had smelled the earthy aroma of a young woman, and I thought she smelled fantastic.
She put her lips on mine and kissed me, then stood and led me to the bed in the corner. The bed was a thin, straw mattress on a short platform. She sat on the bed as I stood in front of her, and she began unbuttoning my shirt. Throwing it aside, she unbuttoned and unzipped my pants, then lowered them. I climbed into bed next to her, wearing my underwear.
We frantically wrestled, touching each other everywhere, pulling off our underwear. Her genitals were covered with a thick, dark mat of hair. Her breasts were unbelievable, with hard nipples that I loved sucking into my mouth.
As I lay on my back, she straddled my waist, lowering herself onto my stiff dick, and we mated. When I was all the way in, she rhythmically raised and lowered her butt, stroking my dick with her pussy.
I twisted one nipple between my fingers while I sucked the other, as she pumped my dick. I was unable to withstand the attention long before my orgasm approached. I groaned as I spilled into her. She ground her groin against mine, eating every drop with her vagina.
She wiped herself on the sheets and lay next to me. We were asleep within minutes. I awoke with a start, jumping up. Something was wrong. I realized that it was that the bombing had stopped. I looked at my watch. It was 10:45. Unbelievably, I had slept for almost four hours. The alcohol and the sex must have relaxed me.
Slipping out of bed, I went to the back porch and peed, then reentered the house. She hadn’t moved. I got back into bed and snuggled against her back. Reaching around her, I fondled her fabulous breasts as she began to stir.
“Bonjour,” she said, drowsily.
As I played with her, I became increasingly excited. She laid there, allowing me access to her body. I was hard, and I entered her from behind. Because I had cum less than five hours ago, I was able to last longer this time, and I pumped her deeply.
She reached between her legs and played with herself as I stroked her. I kneaded her breasts and nuzzled her neck. She began breathing heavily as her orgasm approached, and she grunted her climax, as I sprayed her. We lay together as our breathing returned to normal.
I got up and dressed as she watched me. I’ll never forget how she looked, laying there naked, with my cum on her pussy and my saliva all over her face and breasts. Finally, she got up and wiped off my cum, then started dressing.
She took my trench knife and cut off a piece of the towel, wrapping it around my toe that had the blister. I put on my boots, keeping the material in place.
As I left, she started to follow me, but I turned and said, “No.”
I held up my hands as though pointing a rifle and said, “bang, bang.”
Where I was going, there was no place for her.
“Wait here,” I said, pointing at the farmhouse.
She stopped, looking back toward the house, then toward me. I reached into my pack and grabbed my last two bars of chocolate and gave it to her, along with the remainder of the pack of Lucky Strikes. When I rounded the corner, out of sight of the farmhouse, I turned for one last look, and she was still standing there.
This year was the 70 th anniversary of the D-Day anniversary. There were hundreds of thousands of people who had a part in that history, and for every person, there’s a different story. Few of those people had a story like mine, I imagine.
Do I feel guilty, knowing that people were fighting and dying while I was making love to Therese?
Not even a little bit. I earned my Silver Star during the Battle of the Bulge, and saw plenty of action on the march to Berlin. The fact that I was dropped off target and took a little time to join the fray isn’t my fault.
I never told anybody this story before. I guess I never knew whether I could be court martialed for doing what I did, instead of speeding to the front.
My wife, Dolores, is the only other woman I’ve ever known. She has no idea that I had relations with anyone other than her. I’ve never talked about my experiences in the war with anyone before, including Delores. Early on, she asked questions, but she figured out I wasn’t interested in talking.
During the rest of the war, there was never a night I spent that I didn’t miss her. I fantasized constantly about returning to that farmhouse to find her and make her mine. The winter of ’45, as I froze my ass off in the Ardennes, there were plenty of times that I closed my eyes and returned to that cozy farmhouse on the Chernbourg peninsula. I wanted her so bad it was painful.
After VE day, I thought I’d be sent home, but it would be eight more months before I was deployed, as we tried to regain some order in Germany. Some of the guys were assigned the same duty in France, trying to help them rebuild, but unfortunately, I wasn’t. I constantly thought about trying to bug out and find Therese. But I knew it was only a dream.
I have no reason to ever regret marrying Dolores. We’ve had a great life. Five kids, grandkids, great grandkids. It’s been a great life.
But I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’ve thought about Therese almost every day of my life. If she was alive, she would probably be around 93 or 94 at this point. The comparison is unfair to Dolores, I realize. Therese is still 23; she’s never aged at all in my mind. Dolores, on the other hand, is 82 and has gained some weight, and her hips are bad.
With all the action I saw, you’d think my memories of the war would crowd out that one night with Therese, but to tell the truth, it’s the first thing that comes to mind when I think of the war.
God, I wish I could know what became of her.
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