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Stories of the Airborne Divisions

This tour visits the graves of seven individuals from the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions.

Shortly after midnight the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions jumped into Normandy to secure bridgeheads and beach exits in advance of the main amphibious attack. This tour visits the graves of seven individuals from the airborne divisions who lost their lives during the Normandy Campaign.

 

Robert A. Lantow

Robert A. Lantow

502nd Parachute Infantry Regt, 101st Airborne Division

Private First Class, U.S. Army

Entered the Service from:

Oklahoma

Died:

6/13/1944

Grave Location:

Plot C, Row 7, Grave 12

The 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment insignia.

Pvt. Robert A. Lantow, born in Muskogee, Okla., was the third of six children. He tried to enlist in the U.S. Army Air Forces, but was disqualified because he was colorblind, despite the fact he already had a pilot’s license. Instead, he joined the U.S. Army in the summer of 1942 at the age of 21. He completed six weeks of infantry training and then started paratrooper school, which he enjoyed, but found difficult. His brother, Norman, signed up for paratrooper school as well, even though Robert had tried to discourage him.

Lantow parachuted into Normandy with the 502ndParachute Infantry Regiment, Headquarters Company, 1stBattalion on June 6, 1944. His brother, Norman, jumped that same morning with the 501stParachute Infantry Regiment. Robert was killed in action on June 13, 1944 during the Battle of Bloody Gulch when elements of the German 17th SS Panzergrenadier Battalion and 6thParachute Regiment attacked American forces in Carentan.

Eisenhower speaking to "Easy" Company men of the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, U.S. 101st Airborne Division.

Norman was killed in action in Operation Market Garden in Holland a few months later. Their younger brother, Larry, became an officer in the 3rdArmored Division and fought in many of the major battles of the European Theater of Operations through the end of the war, and survived. Norman and Robert are buried side by side.

501st PIR troopers read Gen. Eisenhower's message, "You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade."

Awards: Purple Heart

Robert A. Lantow is buried in Normandy American Cemetery Plot C, Row 7, Grave 12.

Norman D. Lantow

Norman D. Lantow

501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division

Corporal, U.S. Army

Entered the Service from:

Oklahoma

Died:

11/11/1944

Grave Location:

Plot C, Row 7, Grave 11

The 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment insignia.

Corp. Norman D. Lantow was born on April 24, 1923 in Muskogee, Okla., the fourth of six children. He left for the U.S. Army in 1942 at age 18 and trained to become a paratrooper, just like his brother, Pvt. Robert A. Lantow. Originally, Robert enlisted and expressed to his brother that it was great, prompting Norman to join. Not long after, Robert sent a letter to his brother indicating that things weren’t going well. By the time Norman received the letter, he had already enlisted. 

Norman and ‘I’ Company dropped into Normandy on June 6, 1944. Robert dropped with the 101stAirborne the same morning. Norman was captured by German troops and stayed in a Prisoner of War camp where a German doctor treated him for a leg wound. He eventually escaped and found his way back to Allied-controlled territory, where he was transported to England. Robert, who also jumped on June 6, was killed in action a few days later.  

Waves of paratroopers land in the Netherlands during Operation Market Garden in September 1944.

While in England, Lantow was able to reunite with his brother, Larry Lantow, an officer in the 3rdArmored Division that was preparing to embark for France in August 1944. They were able to meet in Bath, England for a few hours before saying goodbye. Larry later expressed that his brother had aged dramatically during his time at war, and that he had undergone a real transformation since leaving Oklahoma.

101st Airborne Division paratroopers march to the waiting planes for Normandy.
501st Parachute Infantry Regiment with German machine guns. The unit captured the guns in an intense Wehrmacht attack near Eerde, Netherlands. September 1944.

After recuperation from his wounds, Norman jumped into the Netherlands during Operation Market Garden. Alongside other members of the 501stParachute Infantry Regiment, he fought for over a month before a German mortar round killed him on November 11, 1944. Norman and Robert Lantow are buried next to one another. Larry fought through many of the major European campaigns and survived the war.

Awards: Bronze Star, Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster

Norman D. Lantow is buried in Normandy American Cemetery Plot C, Row 7, Grave 11.

Rene A. Croteau

Rene A. Croteau

508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division

Private First Class, U.S. Army

Entered the Service from:

Massachusetts

Died:

7/4/1944

Grave Location:

Plot C, Row 24, Grave 12

Born in 1916, Pfc. Rene A. “Punchy” Croteau was a semi-pro baseball player from Holyoke, Mass., He entered the armed forces on November 28, 1942 to serve with the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82ndAirborne Division. He and his regiment were stationed in England in 1944 in preparation for D-Day.

The 508th Red Devils baseball team, taken in England in 1944 before the invasion of Normandy. Pfc. Rene A. "Punchy" Croteau is kneeling on the far right.

On June 6, 1944, Croteau, along with 24,000 Allied paratroopers, hoped to land near their planned landing zones in Normandy. The 508thParachute Infantry Regiment’s main strategic objective was Sainte-Mère-Église. With control of the town, the Americans could secure the crossings at the Merderet River and establish a defensive line north from Neuville-au-Plain to Breuzeville-au-Plain. Sainte-Mère-Église would be the first French town liberated by Americans in World War II.  Like most parachute units that night, many troopers were dropped in the wrong locations and found it difficult to link up with each other. Some were successful in meeting up with their units while others were lost, drowned in the marshes, or taken prisoner.

Men of the 508th Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, make a last minute check of their equipment before taking off from an airfield in Saltby, England for Normandy.

Croteau survived his nighttime drop of June 6, and continued to fight through the area over the following few weeks. Along the way, Croteau became fast friends with a 15-year-old French boy. The boy, wanting to join his new friends in the fight, pieced together an 82ndAirborne uniform to wear and marched alongside Croteau.

Monument to the 82nd Airborne and 90th U.S. Infantry Division on Hill 95 where Croteau was killed on July 4, 1944.

On July 4, 1944 Croteau’s ‘I’ Company was advancing toward La Haye-du-Puits on Hill 95 when the Germans opened fire. Croteau was killed instantly. In an attempt to drag Croteau to safety, the French boy ran out onto the field only to be killed himself by German bullets.

Monument to the 82nd Airborne and 90th U.S. Infantry Division on Hill 95 where Pfc. Croteau was killed on July 4, 1944.

Awards: Purple Heart

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Rene A. Croteau is buried in Normandy American Cemetery Plot C, Row 24, Grave 12.

William H. Atlee

William H. Atlee

506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division

Technician Fifth Class, U.S. Army

Entered the Service from:

Iowa

Died:

6/6/1944

Grave Location:

Plot E, Row 14, Grave 44

T/5 William H. Atlee's helmet.

Technician 5thClass William H. Atlee was an accountant from Iowa, born in 1914. He enlisted in the U.S. Army on September 24, 1942, and joined the 506thParachute Infantry Regiment, 101stAirborne Division, nicknamed the “Screaming Eagles.” Atlee had the distinction of being the nephew of Clement Attlee (the American side of the family spelled the surname differently), the deputy prime minister of Winston Churchill’s wartime coalition government and later Prime Minister of Great Britain. Clement Attlee was known to William as “Uncle Kermit” and while in England, the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Robert L. Wolverton, often gave William additional leave passes so that he could visit his uncle.

Atlee along with the rest of Lt. Col. Robert L. Wolverton's stick two days before the invasion.
On the evening of June 5, 1944, Atlee climbs on board C-47 'Stoy Hora' bound for Normandy.
The 506th Parachute Infantry Division. Atlee is the first man seen on the right (holding cigarette in mouth).

Like many parachute units on D-Day, Atlee and the 506th Parachute Regiment were dropped off-target. Atlee’s 3rdBattalion was scattered over a wide area. Just after the drop, Atlee and Technician 4thClass Joseph Gorenc ambushed several German soldiers on a horse and cart. In the firefight, the two troopers managed to kill the enemy unit. The two paratroopers eventually met up with a group from the 501stled by an officer. The officer ordered Atlee and Gorenc to scout ahead. As they left the field and started to cross a sunken road in Chemins de Campagne, they were hit by crossfire from a group of German paratroopers. Atlee was killed instantly.

On the night of June 5/6, Joseph Gorenc loads onto "Stoy Hora" for his last jump in Normandy. Atlee was also a crew member on "Stoy Hora" that night.
As they flew toward France on the night of June 5/6, 1944 every member of Wolverton's stick signed war correspondent Ward Smith's notebook. Atlee was among them.

Charles Destres, a local farmer, discovered Atlee’s body a day later. Destres covered the body with a blanket and took Atlee’s helmet to a U.S. Army graves registration unit.  The unit prepared Atlee’s body for burial with other troopers who had been killed in action. Atlee, SSgt. Paul Simrell, and 1stSgt. Jim Shirley, three friends from the same battalion, lay together in the field where they had been killed.

Awards: Purple Heart

William H. Atlee is buried in Normandy American Cemetery Plot E, Row 14, Grave 44.

Turner Brashears Turnbull

Turner Brashears Turnbull

505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division

First Lieutenant, U.S. Army

Entered the Service from:

Colorado

Died:

6/7/1944

Grave Location:

Plot E, Row 21, Grave 21

1stLt. Turner Brashears Turnbull III was a half-Choctaw member of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82ndAirborne Division. Turnbull was born in Durant, Okla. on October 30, 1921, to a full-blood Choctaw father and a Scottish mother. His great-grandparents, Turner B. Turnbull, Sr. and Angelico “Jerico” Perkins, walked the infamous Choctaw Trail of Tears. 

Paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division, en route to Sicily on July 8, 1943.

Turnbull joined the 180thInfantry of the Oklahoma 45th Division National Guard.  Following training, Turnbull became a paratrooper with the 82ndAirborne Division, serving in the North African, Sicilian, and Italian campaigns. In Sicily he sustained a life-threatening abdominal gunshot wound and was hospitalized in England for four months. Though severely wounded in action, Turnbull still chose to rejoin his unit for the D-Day invasion.

Paratroopers of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment take positions around Sainte-Mère- glise during the morning of June 6, 1944.

Under the cover of darkness, Turnbull’s 2ndBattalion, 505thParachute Infantry Regiment, 82ndAirborne Division parachuted into France near Sainte-Mère-Église on the morning of June 6, 1944. Because a major German assault was expected from the north, the 2nd Battalion was ordered to proceed to the hamlet of Neuville-au-Plain, capture it, and set up a defensive line to protect the stronghold of Sainte-Mère-Église. Turnbull set out with a small platoon of 42 men. They made their way through Sainte-Mère-Église and up to the high ground north of the town. 

On D-Day +1, the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment patrol through Sainte-Mère- glise.

Turnbull had barely made it into position when the German 1058thGrenadier Regiment unleashed an attack, outnumbering the Americans about five to one.  Turnbull’s unit was at a great disadvantage, armed with only a single machine gun, a bazooka team, a few Browning automatic rifles and rifles. It was hardly a match for the strength of the German 1058thGrenadier Regiment. Turnbull deployed what little equipment and few men he had on both sides of the road to block the German attack. 

According to some accounts, no sooner had Turnbull positioned his men than the Germans hit. Turnbull was now confronted with the large enemy column approaching 400 yards away. For eight hours, Turnbull’s small unit fought courageously and held its ground. Only 16 of the 42 men who had gone to Neuville-au-Plain survived, but the fight kept the enemy in the north from breaking through while the defenders of Sainte-Mère-Église fought off a simultaneous attack from the south. Turnbull received the Silver Star for this action. 

On the first day of the invasion of fortress Europe, the 505thParachute Infantry Regiment held the line at Sainte-Mère-Église thanks to the 22-year-old officer. On the morning of June 7, Turnbull was on his way to speak to his first sergeant when a mortar round exploded nearby. He was killed instantly. 

Awards: Silver Star, Purple Heart

Turner Brashears Turnbull is buried in Normandy American Cemetery Plot E, Row 21, Grave 21.

Herbert F. Batcheller

Herbert F. Batcheller

508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division

Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army

Entered the Service from:

Minnesota

Died:

6/7/1944

Grave Location:

Plot G, Row 28, Grave 15

The 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment insignia.

Born July 22, 1909 in Hillyard, Wash., a suburb of Spokane, Lt. Col. Herbert Batcheller entered the University of Washington in 1929, where he studied engineering. Prior the war, he entered the U.S. Military Academy, married, and had two sons. 

On March 16, 1942, Batcheller was ordered to parachute school at Ft. Benning, Georgia. Though suffering from a broken coccyx after a motorcycle accident, Batcheller wanted to qualify as a paratrooper and wore sponge rubber padding during training to keep his injury a secret. He successfully finished training without the doctors finding out about the accident. He qualified as a paratrooper on May 2, 1942.

In December 1942, Batcheller became executive officer of the 505thParachute Infantry Regiment (The Black Panther Regiment) and later lieutenant colonel. Batcheller made his first combat jump on July 9, 1943 in Sicily. Batcheller eventually became acting commanding officer of the 505th, a position he held for the duration of the Italian campaign. 

The first night combat jump in July 1943 that Lt. Col. Herbert F. Batcheller participated in during the Invasion of Sicily.
Men of the 82nd Airborne in Sainte-Mère- glise after its liberation.

He became 1stBattalion commander of the 508thParachute Infantry Regiment, 82ndAirborne Division for the Normandy jump. The battalion jumped near Sainte-Mère-Église on D-Day,  June 6, 1944. During the second part of the day, Batcheller was critically injured and died on June 7 at age 35. He was only one of two commanding officers of the battalion to be killed in Normandy.

Awards: Purple Heart

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Herbert F. Batcheller is buried in Normandy American Cemetery Plot G, Row 28, Grave 15.

Roland R. Baribeau

Roland R. Baribeau

506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division

Private, U.S. Army

Entered the Service from:

Massachusetts

Died:

6/21/1944

Grave Location:

Plot F, Row 9, Grave 20

The 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment insignia.

Pvt. Roland R. Baribeau was born in Canada, but grew up in Andover, Mass.  At the time of his enlistment, Baribeau was living in Andover with his wife, Helen, and two sons, Roland and Gary.

Baribeau was granted U.S. citizenship on May 19, 1944, while training in England. As a member of the Headquarters Company of the 506thParachute Infantry Regiment, 101stAirborne Division, and designated as a demolitions expert, he was part of a group of men that became famous as the “Filthy Thirteen.” The December 4, 1944 edition of the Springfield Daily Republican published an article describing the group:

Jack McNiece applies war paint to a fellow paratrooper of the "Filthy Thirteen".

“Who are the ‘Filthy thirteen’? Officially they are members of the first demolition section of regimental headquarters company, 506th parachute infantry regiment.  Unofficially, they are a band of sportsmen and deer poachers.  Actually they form one of the most individualistic groups in the most individualistic army in the field.  They represent the country from Massachusetts to California, Washington to Alabama; they represent all peoples and all religions and, as is only right, their leader is part native Indian.

“Their pet dislike was undressing for bed … they climbed under their blankets fully clothed, jackets and parachute boots included.  With their dislike for water they developed a complete disregard for normal behavior.”

Clarence C. Ware and Charles R. Plaudo of the "Filthy Thirteen" prepare to load their planes set for Normandy.

Baribeau parachuted into Normandy behind Utah Beach on D-Day. His unit, the 1stDemolition Section of the 101stAirborne Division, was a special demolitions section trained and assigned to demolish enemy targets behind the lines. They were ordered to secure or destroy the bridges over the Douve River outside of Carentan, a major objective of the 101stAirborne. This unit was best known for a famous series of photos showing members wearing Mohawks and applying war paint to one another. The inspiration for this came from the unit's leader, Sgt. Jake McNiece, who was part Choctaw.

Baribeau was killed at the bridge at Brévands near Carentan on June 21, 1944.

Men of the "Filthy Thirteen" check their equipment before boarding their plane for Normandy.

Members of the “Filthy Thirteen” include:

  • Jack Agnew
  • Roland "Frenchy" R. Baribeau
  • Robert S. "Ragsman" Cone
  • James F. "Piccadilly Willy" Green
  • John "Peepnuts" Hale
  • James E. "LaLa" Leech
  • Louis "LouLip" Lipp
  • Thomas "Old Man" Lonergan
  • Michael "Mike" Marquez
  • Charles Mellen
  • Jake McNiece
  • John H. "Dinty" Mohr
  • Joseph "Joe" Oleskiewicz
  • Frank Palys
  • Herb "Herby" Pierce
  • Charles "Chuck" Plauda
  • George "GoogGoo" Radeka
  • Andrew "Andy" Rasmussen
  • Brincely Stroup
  • Clarence Ware
  • Jack "Hawkeye" Womer

Awards: Purple Heart

Roland R. Baribeau is buried in Normandy American Cemetery Plot F, Row 9, Grave 20.