Normandy Campaign D-day Veteran Feb. 2012
Jay landed here…68 years ago
On Wednesday February 1st 2012 I had the privilege and honor of meeting Forest « Jay » Nichols, he prefers we him call him « Jay ».
His visit to Normandy, with his wife, Becky, son, Steven, and daughter in-law, Becky, coincided with the Airborne Museum re-opening its doors for the 2012 season.
Private Nichols’ story in Normandy began almost 68 years ago, at 1.30 am on the early morning of June 6th 1944 (He was in Baker Company 502nd of the 101st Airborne). He landed near Turqueville.
Jay’s story, in his own words:
Around 1.30 in the morning our jump light, which was red ( the signal for the paratroopers to « hook-up ») turned green and the signal was given to jump. I didn’t feel like staying around because of the sound of flak exploding all around us and bullets zipping past us.
Out of my stick ( usually 18 paratroopers) only 3 of us managed to re-group together, my two buddies who had jumped right behind me as I went out of the plane, but I didn’t find them right away.
As soon as I hit the ground I hurried to get out of my parachute. When I checked for my gear after inspecting my carbine I realized that the impact upon hitting the ground had been so violent that I had snapped the folding mechanism and the stock so the rifle was useless.
I could hear some weird sounds
I could hear some weird sounds. After a moment that I realized I had landed in a field full of sheep! Not wanting to attract any unwanted attention I crawled at the height of the sheep and followed their movement so I could get across the field.
In the night crouching down in a ditch just behind a hedgerow I could hear voices approaching. I remembered to pull out my clicker ( a device given to us just before leaving England; we were told to produce one click and to respond by making two clicks ) and did one click. Now the sounds were turning into chatting, and not wanting to get shot when I finally distinguished after straining hard to listen that is was English that was being spoken. I made my presence clear by shouting « Hey I’m over here »
Boy was I happy to recognize those two voices!
…the enemy and they were all around us
After linking up with my two friends, and asking them if they had seen anyone else from our stick, we decided to make our way towards Sainte Mère Eglise. We proceeded to climb through the thick hedgerows — and believe me those things aren’t easy to get through — cutting up our hands and ripping our uniforms. We didn’t want to reveal our presence to the enemy and they were all around us.
Some of my buddie got killed, wounded and captured, becoming POW’s, that night.
We fought the Germans for several hours that night. We’d toss our grenades over the hedgerows at them and they would throw theirs. They had a grenade with a handle on it that we called a masher it made more bang than harm. When we finally made our way into Sainte mere Eglise with one wounded in tow, day light was breaking .Upon arrival in Ste Mere Eglise, sniper fire coming from the church made me crouch behind a stone with bullets ricocheting just above my helmet.
Having being miss-drop and scattered we were finally re-attached to the 505th of the 82nd Airborne ( the guys who took and secured the town that night).
My friends and I hung around Sainte Mere Eglise until June 11th when I saw a truck from the War graves Commission filled with bodies. I knew they were paratroopers; you could tell by the way the bodies had been put in the back. Their heads towards the front and their feet sticking out the back, bodies were stacked three men high.
I told my buddies “hey lets hop on it and see where it takes us.” When it finally stopped we were on Utah Beach. Then we got back on an ammunitions truck and made our way to Sainte Come du Mont, where we re-grouped with what was left of our battalion. Then we headed toward Carentan and proceeded to take the town from the German opposition.
( Carentan was completely liberated on June 12th.. It was vital to the Allied forces that Carentan was in American hands as this is the town where troops coming off of Utah Beach and Omaha Beach would link up to push south toward St. Lo )
“that’s pretty much it,son.”
We were told we’d be in Normandy for three days. We ended up staying for a little over a month. Then I boarded an LST back to England and later in September on the 17th I parachuted again into Holland for Operation Market Garden.
Jay fell silent. He was teary-eyed — who wouldn’t be? — he looked up and said “that’s pretty much it,son.”
He told me « We were told there’d be some pretty French woman here in Normandy, but I never saw any civilians »
“Maybe they we being held in the cellars so as to not fall under the charm of these paratroopers.”
Jay, who is 91, said this would be his last visit to Normandy because “my voice is slow, my legs are weak, I’m worn out.”
I had a really great time in his presence and when I’ll be touring going through the Normandy countryside I’ll stop and tell people about the hedgerow and the fighting that went on around here 68 years ago, I will tell them about (Pvt.) Jay Nichols. He personifies what he and others did for us (so we didn’t have to) and they will never be forgotten … never.