William P. ''Bill'' Galbraith

Bill was born and raised in Southern California. His mother was a nurse and his father was in the construction industry. Bill enlisted in the army on September 9, 1942 after the Marines had turned him down for being color-blind. Like most of the Los Angeles area recruits, he was processed through Fort McArthur in San Pedro, California. It was at Fort McArthur that Bill decided to volunteer to join the airborne rather than being in the regular infantry. The additional $50.00 per month pay for a paratrooper probably had something to do with his decision, but his adventurous personality did too.

After parachute training (Bill was parachute certified and earned his jump wings with the rest of 3rd battalion, 506th PIR on January 3, 1943), the next stage of their training would include intense weapon training, military tactics, and maneuvers.  On June 10th, 1943, the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment was formally attached to the 101st Airborne Division.  In late August, the regiment was moved to Camp Shanks, New York in preparation for its move overseas. Within a few days after their arrival, on September 5th, 1943, Bill's regiment would aboard the USS Samaria and sail to England in order to make final preparations for joining the war in Europe.
After arriving in Liverpool on September 15th, the various 101st units on the ship were sent to different areas of England to be billeted and continue training.  Besides the additional training, Bill and his company were also part of a demonstration jump on March 23rd, 1944, for Sir Winston Churchill and Generals Dwight D. Eisenhower and Omar Bradley

Soon it was the evening of June 5th, 1944 and Bill found himself at Exeter Air Base in England, boarding a C-47 transport plane to be flown over the coast of France for the invasion of Europe.  All of the riflemen in his platoon had been taken away to act as security for the Pathfinders who had left for the drop zones before the main invasion force.  This one of the last groups of paratroopers to go in.

Bill was scheduled to land at Drop Zone “D” near Angoville au Plain with the battalion objective of seizing and securing the road and foot bridges over the Douve River near Brevands. Instead of being on his scheduled drop zone, Bill landed somewhere southeast of St. Come-du-Mont.  Once on the ground, he met up with the "I" Company's senior enlisted man, First Sergeant Paul Garrison.  Unfortunately the First Sergeant had broken his ankle on landing.  Bill was not about to leave him behind, so he decided to assist Sergeant Garrison until they could get him to safety.  They met up with a couple other troopers that Bill did not know, but they decided to stay together as they moved through the dark night.  It was much safer that way.
As a result of First Sergeant Garrisons injury, they had trouble keeping up with the other guys in the group.   If they had any fear of being left behind, it probably turned to relief when the group entered a field a bit later.  When they did, a flare was shot in the sky and then a machine gun opened up on them.  This happened at about the time the main body of the group reached the center of the field.  Fortunately Bill and Sgt. Garrison were still back in the shadows of the hedges bordering the field and they just froze (as they had been trained) while everyone else hit the dirt.  Rather than entering the field, Bill and Sgt. Garrison decided to go a different route.  To this day, Bill does not know if the guys ahead of them were just dropping to the ground for safety, or if they had been shot by the machine gun.  Bill never saw them again.
Bill was rearmed with another machine gun and he stayed and fought with the 501st for a while.  This was near the locks at la Barquette in an area that would later become known as Hell’s Corners.Eventually he was reunited with his company at the bridges on June 8th after they had been blown up by the US Army Aircorp.
The next real action that Bill and his company saw was on June 13th in an area southwest of Carentan that would later be known as “Bloody Gully”. Bill would survive, and while acting as rear guard, would be the last man of his company out of the area when the fighting was done.
Most of the major engagements of the Normandy campaign were over for Bill and his company.  After various point and rear guard assignments, Bill and the remainder of the 101st would start heading back to England for rest and refitting in early July. During this time Bill was reassigned from “I” company to the S-3 or Operations section of battalion HQ to replace Joe Gorence who had been captured in Normandy.  As part of the S-3 section, Bill would be responsible for many new duties including helping to create the sand tables for the men to study their objective on the next mission.  His new assignment would very soon have a profound impact on his life.

The next major operation that Bill and the 101st would be involved in began on September 17th, 1944.  Known as Operation Market Garden, it would be the largest airborne invasion of all times.  It was basically a British run operation which had been authored by one of their senior commanders, Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery.  For the operation the 101st Airborne Division was attached to the First British Airborne Division as was the 82nd Airborne Division and the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade.  This move was part of the creation of the First Allied Airborne Army by General Dwight D. Eisenhower on August 2nd, 1944.

For their part of the operation, the 506th PIR was to drop into the area of Son, Holland to seize the bridge south of the town over the Wilhelmina Canal before the Germans could destroy it.  They would then move south again and liberate the town of Eindhoven.  Unlike the night drop the division made in Normandy on the eve of the D-Day invasion, the drop into The Netherlands would be in the middle of the day. At about 1:00 PM on September 17th, 1944, units of the 101st Airborne Division began dropping onto their assigned DZ's in the southern region of The Netherlands know as Holland.  It was a clear and sunny afternoon and their drop zones were all open pastures.  Some of the planes had been hit by German anti-aircraft fire (flak) as they approached the DZ's, but for the most part, the drop was very successful and the casualties we minimal as compared to the June 5th night drop.  After landing, the various units of the 101st formed up on a section of the DZ and then headed off to their objectives.  Unfortunately DZ "C" where the 506th landed was too far from their objective, by the time they arrived at the bridge, it had just been blown up by the Germans.

Bill's war ended in Holland when on September 18th he was seriously wounded while entering the outskirts of Eindhoven: ''The enemy began firing at Bill and the other guys with a machine gun, so he quickly ducked into a doorway of one of the homes on the left to take cover.  About that time the Germans opened fire with two 88mm cannons.  The German 88mm cannon was one of the most deadly weapons of the war.  Besides being an effective weapon for shooting at airplanes and firing at long distance targets, the Germans could lower the barrel and shoot straight at an object in the distance like a large rifle.  The weapon was very accurate. The first round the Germans fired hit the building across the street from Bill.  The entire front of the building was blown out.  Bill noticed a member of "I" company taking cover next to that building and yelled out to him "that was a close one".  The next two rounds that came in had a much more devastating result.  The first of the two landed closer to Bill and shrapnel from it struck one of his legs, knocking him to the ground.  Bill started crawling back towards the doorway, but the second round came in and he was stuck again, this time in the shoulder.  About then Bill "decided that maybe he wasn't in the safest place" and using his good leg, pushed himself back towards the church and out of the line of fire.  Unfortunately he was not able to move very well, but at that moment the front door of the next house near him opened up and a local man came out and proceeded to drag Bill inside.  The man’s name was Pete Klompmaker, and after dragging Bill into his home, he began to tend to his wounds as best he could.
3rd battalion 506th continued to move forward and with some help from 2nd battalion, captured the two 88mm cannons and finished liberating Eindhoven.

The war was pretty much over for Bill at this point.  He was soon taken to an aid station and then put on an ambulance to be evacuated back to England.  However he was not out of danger yet, the ambulance he was put in came under attack and almost crashed.  But eventually they made it away from the frot line and drove to France where he was put on a boat to England. 
Bill was hospitalized for treatment in England and eventually moved to a hospital back in the States.  He would spend the next two years being operated on and going through rehabilitation.  The doctors were able to save his leg and patch up his other wounds fairly well.
After healing, Bill would eventually be honorably discharged from the service on June 18, 1947.

Bill married his Scottish sweetheart Anna, who he had met while stationed in England.  Anna would move to Southern California and they would raise 10 wonderful children together. Bill and Anna still reside in Southern California and they are very active in the local chapter of the 101st Airborne Division Association


I met Bill Galbraith at the Dead Man's Corner museum on the presentation of the book by Ian Gardner and Roger Day entitled ''Tonight We Die as men''. Saint-Côme-du-Mont, Normandy, France, June 6, 2009.