The Story of a Screaming Eagle in Normandy: The D-Day Memories of Donald Burgett
Army Paratrooper, 101st Airborne Div., 506 Parachute Regiment, Company A
I have been asked many times over the years why I volunteered for the airborne. The answer is simple. The attack on Pearl Harbor was an atrocity against our country and the American people. That single act welded all Americans to one cause as no other act could have done. Americans wanted more than justice, we wanted revenge. Young men wrapped in blankets slept on the sidewalks in front of the draft boards the night of the bombing to be among the first to volunteer when that office opened in the morning.
When my brother, Elmer, joined the paratroopers in the fall of 1942, I felt that I had to do the same. I had to be a paratrooper. But my parents would not sign a release so that I could join the military early. I went to my draft board and signed a â€œvoluntary induction paperâ€ when I was 17; I would be called up on my eighteenth birthday without my parents knowing that I had in fact volunteered. I was sworn in on April 5, 1943-my 18th birthday-and entered active service May 11, 1943.
During World War II, I served with the 506th â€œCurraheeâ€ Parachute Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division. Brutal training from basic through jump school in Fort Benning, Georgia was programmed to encourage those that just did not have the right stuff to quit. Get rid of the chaff in the beginning so there would be no time lost in training those who would drop out later. When landing behind enemy lines, every man had to be one who could be counted on.
Originally I was part of the 541st Parachute Infantry Regiment when it was activated at Camp Mackall, North Carolina, October 1943. We took advanced training there, including practice jumps and experimented with jumping with equipment. But plans for the Normandy invasion were underway and the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions would have to be brought up in manpower to handle their assigned missions. The 541st Rgt. was sent to Europe as replacements to those divisions.
The group of replacements I was with joined the 506th â€œCurraheeâ€ Regiment and placed in Company A, which was billeted in horse stables in the small town of Aldbourne, England. Phillips, Benson and I were assigned to Stable 13 with one of the original paratroopers, Donald B. Liddle. Here, night jumps and advanced training intensified. After reading my book â€œCurrahee,â€ long after the war was over, Niel Stevens of Marlborough, England formed a group to research and preserve these stables in memory of the Americans.
In one practice tactical night jump in preparation for the Normandy drop, Company A 506 ran into a German bomber formation over London. The Germans were dropping bombs and we could see fires on the ground. The British put up a good barrage and hit a couple of our planes; fortunately none of our men were killed. Still, we managed to continue our flight and jump on our assigned drop zones that night due to the skills and training of the troop carrier pilots.