Charles Edward Skidmore, Jr.
Glider pilot in the 91st Squadron of the 439th Troop Carrier Group
Skidmore looked resplendent in his officer's pinks and greens on graduation day. He was in high spirits as he marched across the stage in the base theater, saluted the school commander, and was presented with his sterling silver glider wings. He was now officially a glider pilot, a member of a very unique group of fliers, and proud of it. Paragraph 59 of Personnel Orders No. 7, dated 15 April 1943, officially rated him a glider pilot, effective 30 April 1943, and Paragraph 60 of the same order required him to participate in regular and frequent flights upon entry into active duty. From that date forward, when someone asked him what the "G" in his wings stood for, he usually answered, "Guts."
On 30 April 1943, special orders were issued transferring newly promoted Flight Officer Skidmore to Louisville, Kentucky, with assignment to the 27th Base Headquarters and Air Base Squadron at Bowman Field. Officially, the base was known as the Glider Pilot Combat Training Unit (GPCTU), but unofficially it was called the "Home of the Winged Commandos." Chuck would undergo additional flight training at Bowman and would be introduced for the first time to ground combat training. Because of the lack of CG-4A gliders for tactical training it was necessary for glider pilots to train in light aircraft. His first flight at Bowman was on 11 May 1943 in an Aeronca L-3C in which he logged three hours, half of it as first pilot. Dead stick spot landings were practiced regularly, frequently over two sets of 50-foot barriers placed close together to teach glider pilots the technique of short field landings. The object was to just clear the first barrier, land the glider, and stop it before reaching the second barrier. When glider pilots weren't flying they were taking 20 mile hikes with full field packs, practicing hand-to-hand combat and learning ground fighting tactics.
For the next six months the daily flying routine was practice, practice and more practice. After days of rigorous infantry training glider pilots were in the best physical condition of their life.
Skidmore completed his training at Bowman, now called the Glider Crew Training Center, in mid-October 1943. On 21 October, 1st Troop Carrier Command issued orders assigning Chuck and 227 other Bowman Field graduates to the 38th Troop Carrier Squadron at Camp Mackall in Hoffman, North Carolina. Everyone departed the following day by rail, bus and private conveyance, each granted five days leave before reporting to their new duty station on 29 October.
Skidmore and the ground echelon of the 439th TC Group and its four squadrons left New York aboard the U. S. S. George Washington, an Army troop transport, on 28 February 1944. After eleven days at sea the ship arrived at Liverpool, England on 10 March 1944. From there they traveled by rail to Balderton where they would remain until 26 April 1944. On that date the group was relocated to the airdrome at Upottery, England.
After the Group arrived in the United Kingdom the training continued unabated in preparation for the invasion of the continent. Several maneuvers were held to further hone the skills of the C-47 and glider pilots. About a month before the D-Day invasion of Normandy, France the 439th was relocated to Taunton in southern England. On 3 June everyone was herded into barracks and hangars that were surrounded by barbed wire. Everyone knew that they would soon be facing the enemy. Finally, the day that every Allied soldier looked forward to arrived. Chuck said that you could feel the tension in the air. He would not fly the D-Day mission on 6 June 1944, but would fly in glider trooper reinforcements of the 101st Airborne Division the following day, D-Day +1.
Everyone flying the mission on 7 June was awakened at 4:00 a.m. by the CQ (charge-of-quarters). When they arrived at the mess hall for breakfast they were surprised to see that fresh eggs were being served. No one had seen a fresh egg since they arrived in England, so they were duly surprised. The next thing they were served was a
huge piece of chocolate cake. The combination was unusual but not unappetizing. They took what they were given and joked about it.
When Chuck, who was flying copilot, and the pilot arrived at their glider they climbed aboard carrying their parachutes. Glider troopers were already seated on both sides of the cabin. They lay their parachutes on the cockpit seats, and prepared to sit down. At that point a burly airborne infantry lieutenant stuck his head between the two pilots and announced, "There's no use of you two fastening on those parachutes because we'll never let you use them anyway." Chuck explained to the lieutenant that the parachutes were used only as a seat cushion and to prove his point, he didn't even bother to drape the straps over his shoulder. The CG-4A cockpit seats were purposely built low so they could accommodate the Air Force S-1 and S-5 seat pack parachute.
The two hour and fifteen minute flight to Normandy was uneventful until they arrived near the landing zone at 600 feet. Just as the pilot released the glider from the tow plane a burst of machine gun fire from the ground passed through the cockpit floor missing Chuck's head by no more than a foot, and stitched the right wing from end to end. Had the burst arrived a split second earlier he would have caught it right in the face. To the consternation of both pilots they noticed that the Germans had flooded their landing zone. The pilot had no choice but to land on the water. Fortunately, it was only about three feet deep. As the glider settled on the water, Skidmore removed his flak vest, tore a large piece of fabric off the side of the cockpit and rolled out into the water. He and the pilot headed for the nearest hedgerow for protection.
Once on the ground, so to speak, the glider infantrymen quickly located the source of the ground fire. It turned out to be a bunker containing about a dozen conscripted Polish soldiers with a German sergeant in charge. After the glider troopers from several gliders, including Skidmore's, directed a hail of rifle and bazooka fire at the bunker the resistance ceased. Then a single shot was heard inside the bunker, followed by laughter. Soon the Poles emerged with their hands held high in surrender. They weren't about to fight the Americans. They simply shot the German sergeant.
Chuck, the pilot, and the troopers in their glider took refuge in a thatched roof farm house. They were surprised to find an American paratrooper with a broken leg in one of the beds. He had jumped the night before and had fractured his leg when he fell though the thatched roof of the farm house. A young French girl was caring for him, so he just lay there waiting for the war to come to him. Chuck wondered afterwards if he made it back home okay.
By nightfall, Skidmore said that he and the pilot began looking for a safe place to catch a few winks. They came upon several other Americans busily digging holes in a small field, so they likewise began digging in the same area. "Hey, you guys can't dig there," said one of the Americans. "Why," we asked. "Because we're starting a temporary American cemetery here," was the reply. They were burying several dead American paratroopers. That did it. They went elsewhere. For the next 24 hours they spent some time with a 105mm artillery crew, providing perimeter guard, and then with a communications outfit.
For the next two days there was considerable confusion since there were no distinct battle lines, and the war consisted of a number of small skirmishes between Americans and Germans. But the troops had moved off the beach and the Americans appeared to be winning the skirmishes. Chuck and most of the surviving glider pilots began to assemble at the 101st command post. On the third day they made the 3 mile trek to Utah Beach where the beachmaster assigned them the job of guarding German POWs (Prisoners-Of-War). Later that day, glider pilots and POWs were loaded aboard an LCI (Landing Craft Infantry) and then onto an LST (Landing Ship Tank) for the trip back to England.
A little excitement occurred while they were on the LST. It was anchored next to an American oil tanker that subsequently attracted the attention of a German E-boat (similar to an American PT boat). The E-boat launched a torpedo that struck the oil tanker below the water line and it exploded. There was only one survivor, a man and his dog. Moments later a British ground attack aircraft fired on and sank the E-boat. Chuck said that it was much like watching a newsreel to watch the incident unfold before your eyes.
Miraculously, the German commander of the E-boat was rescued by crewmen from Skidmore's LST. He had a severe leg wound. Chuck helped carry him to the operating table below deck where an American medic tended to the wound. When the medic indicated that he wanted to cut apart the officer's sealskin trousers, the latter exploded with anger. The medic retorted, "If he wants them all that bad, let him keep them." So Chuck and the medic, with the help of the German removed his trousers. It must have been dreadfully painful, but the German never uttered a word. He sat stoically as the medic tended to his wound.
In another instance while on the LST a German POW caught his ring on a nail while descending the ship's ladder. The ring tore into the flesh so badly that the same medic had to take a surgical saw and remove the ring. He did it without a painkiller, which for some reason the German refused. Once again, the pain must have been terrible, but there was not a peep out of the prisoner. The Germans were obviously well disciplined when it came to pain, thought Chuck. When the LST landed in England the prisoners were turned over to the British military. As he stepped off the ship Skidmore gave thanks that he had survived his first combat mission against the enemy.
The story above is part of the biography of Charles Skidmore that was compiled by former WWII glider pilot Leon B. Spencer of Prattville, Alabama, a wartime friend of Chuck Skidmore, Jr., and his wife, Norma Lee, with the considerable help of their son, Michael G. Skidmore. It was completed on 8 July 2007. Provided for this website by Mike Skidmore.
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