By Cass Rains, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
During World War II the 82nd Airborne Division saw heavy casualties. Enemy troops would target parachuting soldiers, leading to more than 6,500 men being wounded and more than 1,600 being killed in action.
Elmer Young, who served in the European Theater during the war, knows he was lucky to make it out in one piece.
“God is the answer to everything. This is the way I feel about my life,” he said. “God took me through the whole war and I never was hurt. I had bumps and scratches but nothing serious.”
Young was involved in the invasion of Sicily, jumped into the Battle of the Bulge and helped take out a German-held bridge in Holland during his time with the 82nd.
His first jump into battle with the airborne came after two months of training along the Mediterranean Sea. They were going into Sicily on July 9, 1943.
“They got us aboard planes at one o’clock in the morning when we jumped into Sicily,” Young recalled. “I jumped in there and immediately found out I was tangled in the harness of my parachute.”
Young’s rifle fell to the ground and he lost a friend in the jump. As soon as he hit the ground he was approached by another member of the 82nd who held a rifle to his head.
“It was so dark he didn’t know it was me until I gave out the identification,” Young said. “There were so many of these assaults. That was our job, to destroy the enemy and get the ground back and give it back to the people it belonged to.”
Young recalled fondly his time in Italy and the interactions he had with the people there.
He recalled a woman who had lost her son and she allowed troops to sleep in an upstairs room of her home to get out of the harsh winter weather. The woman had knitted caps for the men to wear beneath their metal helmets.
When it was time to go, there was one soldier who she didn’t have time to knit a cap for him. Young said the woman cried because she was sending one of them away without something they needed.
“It just really got to you sometimes,” he said. “We treated them nice and they were really lovely people.”
Young said he spent 37 days in Italy following a Sept. 13 jump into Salerno, and then the group was told they were going into Normandy for D-Day. The men moved into England to await their invasion jump.
“They got us aboard the pickups to go to the air base to get on for the Normandy jump,” Young said. “We got out of the pickups and laid there next to those planes for three hours and finally word came these flights have been aborted.”
Young said the group was told they weren’t going to be used unless they were needed. Had they jumped, they would have gone into Saint Mere Eglise, near the Omaha Beach assault.
“They took us back to Leicester (England) that evening and told us, ‘You guys won’t be jumping,’” he said.
His next jump was into Holland, a daylight jump, and the mission was to take a bridge being held by the Germans. However, the men had to cross the Rhine River first.
“The Corps of Engineers supplied us with 23 canvas boats and we were supposed to row them over and somehow get over to the other side of the water,” he said. “There were six boats left when we got over. God only knows what happened to the other guys.”
Although they suffered losses, Young said they continued on toward the bridge.
“The colonel came over and said, ‘Come on guys, we can make it,’” he said. “We went to the bridge and perched our machine guns on the steel girders and the Germans were jumping off there to get away. Most of them we took prisoner.”
Young said there were 327 Germans killed in the taking of the bridge. He remembers because there was a newspaper article shortly after giving credit for the feat to the British soldiers.
“It got in ‘Stars and Stripes’ and there was an argument but we got the credit for it,” Young said.
Although Young doesn’t remember the number of jumps he made before he left the service in September 1945, he does remember the last jump he made.
“My very last jump I had placed a 28-foot canopy in a 24-foot container and that thing malfunctioned,” he said. “It blew 14 panels and I came down on what was left.”
Young then explained a 28-foot canopy contained 28 panels of material. He knows because he took that chute home with him.
“I took it home, put it in the attic and decided I’d forget about it,” he said.