Tag Archives: ww II

How my father invaded Europe on D-Day

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.

Ultimate Racism: The Liberation of Paris

In June of 1940, France fell to Germany. Among the troops who were overwhelmed by the German attacks were about 17,000 black West African colonial troops with the French Army. Many of these soldiers were shot do death by the Germans, who considered these Africans to be subhumans, as they stood in surrender. Surely, it would be fair to consider this to have been part of the Holocaust.

Then the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese did a pretty good job of trying to take over the world, millions upon millions died in that war, and the rest of the Holocaust happened.

The Allies banded together and put everything they had into defeating the racist, fascist, imperialist, evil Axis forces. And eventually prevailed. And Paris was liberated and the first troops to march into the city just abandoned by the Germans were, suitably, French.

But not the Black French.

The units that would have marched into Paris at the time of liberation consisted of a majority of black faces, as the French Army was staffed at this time primarily with colonial troops. But the black faces were weeded out of the ranks, intentionally, so that the companies of soldiers marching into liberated Paris would be 100% white.

I ask you, what, the fuck, were the Allies fighting for?

This fact has recently come to light (although, presumably, people have known about this since it happened) as the result of a BBC archiving project.

… Charles de Gaulle, made it clear that he wanted his Frenchmen to lead the liberation of Paris.

Allied High Command agreed, but only on one condition: De Gaulle’s division must not contain any black soldiers.

In January 1944 Eisenhower’s Chief of Staff, Major General Walter Bedell Smith, was to write in a memo stamped, “confidential”: “It is more desirable that the division mentioned above consist of white personnel.

“This would indicate the Second Armoured Division, which with only one fourth native personnel, is the only French division operationally available that could be made one hundred percent white.”

This is a very interesting article. Go read the rest here.