Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Anniversary For A Neighbor

An evening stroll in the cemetery last week brought this timely acquaintance:

Robert L. MacDonald
Cpl. 502 Parachute Infantry
April 11, 1915
June 10, 1944

Twenty-four-hour access to hot and cold running information enabled me to find out what Cpl. MacDonald' s unit was doing on the day of his death.

Four days after D-Day, the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, a unit of the 101st Airborne Division, was ordered to capture the crossroads town of Carentan, essential to provide a link between the Omaha and Utah landing beaches.

The approach to Carentan traversed an exposed causeway, with marshes on either side. At the head of the causeway, German troops had entrenched themselves in a farmhouse. Snipers hid in the marshes and orchards flanking the approach, and at least one of the Wehrmacht's feared 88mm guns was poised to devastate the approaching Americans.

According to The 101st Airborne During WWII:
The 3d Battalion, 502d PIR, led the... drive along the causeway. Progress, however, was extremely slow. The men of the 502d advanced along the causeway with no cover, facing steady fire as they moved forward. The battalion inched along until it reached the bridge on the Madeleine River and ran into a strong enemy position concentrated in an old farmhouse and the adjoining hedgerows.

Lt. Col. Robert G. Cole, the battalion commander, called for artillery fire on the position, but it did no good. Pinned down, he ordered a charge with fixed bayonets. Colonel Cole leapt up to lead the charge, but not all his men had gotten the word. The executive officer prodded the men along, and Cole continued with the soldiers that had followed. The Germans withdrew from the farmhouse, and the charging soldiers cleared the hedgerow positions. Cole was awarded the Medal of Honor for his efforts that day. Unfortunately, he was killed in a later division operation before receiving his medal.
Further, from Wikipedia:
Nightfall ended the advance but not the casualties, when an attack at 23:30 by two low-flying German Ju 87 Stukas strafing the causeway knocked "Item" Company completely out of the battle.

The severe casualties suffered by the 3rd/502d PIR, estimated at 67% of the original force, resulted in the nickname "Purple Heart Lane" applied to that portion of the Carentan-Sainte-Mère-Église highway.
And somewhere in all this, 65 years ago today, a young man from Washburn, Wisconsin, gave his life.