Editor’s note: Seventy-five years ago, over 150,000 allied troops were preparing to storm the beaches at Normady and parachute from planes into occupied France as part of the D-Day Invasion. Five years ago, we sat with Jack Plotts to recall his experiences from one of the most significant military actions the world has seen. Sadly, Plotts, of Milton, passed away in February 2018.
Part of the famed 82nd Airborne Division, Jack Plotts was but 19 when he jumped from an airplane flying around 500 feet over Normandy, France, during the D-Day Invasion of 1944.
“I was just hoping the parachute would open,” he remembered during a discussion from 2014. “The tree broke my fall. We went out really low, less than 500 feet. We usually jumped from 7,000 feet.”
Plotts, who died in February 2018 at the age of 92, was part of the 508th Division, 82nd Airborne, and had prepared for the D-Day exercise by making jumps in England.
“We knew we’d be part of the invasion when it came off,” he said.
He almost didn’t make the jump on June 6, but not for fear. The CH-47 he and his paratroopers were riding in had been under fire and at one point he looked between his legs to notice a hole in the aircraft. He looked up and saw another hole. Anti-aircraft fire had just missed him.
Once he jumped, he — and the rest of the paratroopers — again came under fire. By the time he’d landed in a tree, his parachute was riddled with more than a dozen shots.
Plotts landed some five miles off course due to a less-than-clean exit from the plane. It was due to his inability to quickly adjust his M1 rifle out of the small door from which paratroopers jumped.
“It got stuck in the escape hatch,” remembered Plotts, who noted soldiers could dismantle their guns but would have to put it back together in darkness upon landing. “It got caught in the top of the door, which put space between me and the next guy.”
With the help of his compass, he began making his way back toward his unit until it became too dark.
“I found an old shack and got settled,” he remembered. “People from the French Underground found me and saw the American flag and knew who I was. They sent a person with me to get me through and back to my outfit.”
Over the next two days, he periodically encountered German patrols but eventually rejoined his unit on the west side of the Merderet River, near Chef-du-Pont, just north of carquebut in northeastern France.
“Our object(ive) was to cut the peninsula off and keep the Germans from the beach,” said Plotts. “We were to take and keep the high ground.”
Some 300 men took a hill outside Pcauville and battled the Germans over the next three or four days. Less than 100 walked off the hill, as near-constant mortar rounds peppered the men’s position. Plotts was among those wounded.
“It blew me back,” Plotts said of the round. “I saw the flash in front of me. The sergeant came over and rocked me once. I was trying to talk but nothing came out. He left, thinking I was dead. After he left, I got myself up and then I heard ‘tat-a-tat-a-tat-a-tat’ and my legs went out from under me.”
The machine gunfire knocked him back to the ground, but also signaled to his men that he was still alive.
“By the grace of God they found me,” said Plotts. “A big Swede named Quaid from Minnesota picked me up and carried me out. He took me to the medic station. I still don’t know how that guy was a paratrooper as big as he was.”
Severely injured, Plotts spent the next four months in an English hospital. Multiple skin grafts were required, including to his face.
That rifle that had caused him to land off course, ultimately saved his life.
“If (that round) wouldn’t have hit my gun I would not be here,” he said. “They said the barrel of the gun was turned up like a U.”
Plotts was the recipient of a Bronze Star, two battle stars and the Purple Heart.
He vividly recalled many of the horrific sights and sounds of the war.
“If you’ve never seen the atrocities one human being can do to another, you don’t know the human race,” he said. “We found a man hung up in a tree. When we got him down, he had been shot about eight or 10 times and he had bayonet stabs in him. How many times can you kill a person? The SS had done it. They were the most sadistic people you could ever run into.”