How my father invaded Europe on D-Day

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My father told me exactly three things about his time in the war (aka World War II).

One. He had made a date with a nice English lady, they were to meet under Big Ben at noon on some day, but the Victory in Europe happened and he was hastily sent back the US where he was put on a train to San Francisco to help invade Japan, but then they dropped the bomb. As a result, there is to this day a nice lady in England waiting under Big Ben, and the Japanese Army waiting in Japan, and my dad ditched both of them.

Two. On one, two, or three occasions (I don’t remember) he was at a location in London (like a store or something) and then left, or was just about to arrive at some location London (a store or something) when a German missile blew the place up. Close call.

Three. His contribution to D-Day. He was in the Army Air Corps, though he may have spent more time on a horse (which he presumably knew how to ride before enlisting) than in a plane. He volunteered for the glider corps, willing to be a pilot or navigator, or anything. He cheated on the eye test (he was nearsighted even at that age). He had memorized the eye chart, so when asked to read the letters, he read them all off perfectly.

Unfortunately, he had memorized an older eye chart, and the new eye chart had a different order of letters except the big E on top. The guy giving the test, another Staff Sargent, was his friend, so he did not get in trouble for cheating, but he was not allowed into the glider corps.

Meanwhile, he was assigned to one of those numerous typically secret air bases where they were preparing for the big invasion. His job was to supervise the arrival of airplanes, which were unassembled, and to oversee the storage and transfer of the plane parts to buildings where technicians would assemble them and get them ready to invade Europe. Lots of planes were simply flown to England from the US, but these were built in the us, but sent as non-completed planes to England via large transport planes such as the C-47 Skytrain.

But here’s the thing. The process of delivering these airplanes was rough and rugged. The various partly assembled parts of the planes often came damaged. I believe he said that they were often literally dropped off, pushed out of a transport plane as it landed and taxied, only to take off seconds later. This meant that if five or six planes were delivered over a short period of time, the technicians would have to borrow one part from this plane, and another part from that plane, in order to make perhaps four whole planes, with some spare bits left over.

My father changed the way they managed this, sending a suggestion up the line back to the US, where the planes originated. “Just pack the plane parts in the transport the best way they fit, don’t worry about sending a whole but disassembled plane all together.” So they did that. A transport plane would come in with mostly tails, another with mostly engines, another with mostly whatever. My father set up a method of inventorying and keeping track of the parts, and of supplying to the technicians working, undamaged, sections as they needed to assemble working aircraft. The process of building planes at this airstrip sped up, and when it came time to teach Hitler what for, more planes were ready than otherwise possible.

In other words, my father, Staff Sargent Joseph F. Laden, invaded Normandy with his mind.

He got a medal each from the US Government and from the UK Government for this.

You may already know that a large percentage of the glider-borne soldiers who took part in the Normandy invasion were killed or wounded during the “landing” of the aircraft, or soon after being under heavy fire. The glider pilots suffered much higher casualty rates than the others. So, I’m thinking that my father contributed a more important thing to the war effort with his reorganization of the aircraft building process than he would have as a glider pilot or crew member, and he got to live.

But he never did get to meet that girl under Big Ben.

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2 thoughts on “How my father invaded Europe on D-Day

  1. Very interesting story. And, when I saw this:

    but he was not allowed into the glider corps.

    I thought “great news for him” — as you pointed out at the end. The Air Zoo here in town had a replica of those gliders (many were built in Michigan). Not something you’d put a lot of trust in if you needed to get into it.

  2. Very nice story about your dad. When D-Day happened my dad was already in Europe serving with the 349th Infantry Regiment in Italy. He was keeping lots of Germans busy down there and out of France. When the war ended in Europe they put him on a ship and sent him out to the Pacific to be part of the Invasion of Japan. Fortunately for him (and me) it ended up just being a nice cruise to the Philippines.

    Like a lot of WW2 vets he didn’t like to talk about the war much. One story he did share was about Crossing The Line. This is the ceremony (actually a hazing ritual) sailors go through when you cross the equator for the first time. He always carried a laminated card around in his wallet that proclaimed that on August 24 1945 he was “Gathered to Our Fold and Duly Initiated as A TRUSTY SHELLBACK and Introduced to the Solemn Mysteries of the Ancient Order of the Deep, DOMAIN OF NEPTUNUS REX Having Crossed the Equator on Board the USS GENERAL O.H. ERNST.”

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