After 70 years, Blanchard’s WW II helmet showed up in the December 1944 Museum in La Gleize, Belgium. Curator and author Michel de Trez invited me to come and see the helmet. This is what the helmet looks like (photo, courtesy Michel de Trez):
This page is an ongoing work. I’ve been researching my father’s story for some time now and will add more to this blog as time allows. Writing a book of this nature can be an all-consuming effort, so I cannot guarantee I will be faithful to posting as often as I should.
Ernest R. Blanchard was a radio operator with the 82nd Airborne Division, 505th Regiment, Headquarters Company. As such, whenever they had a mission, he was assigned out to various companies for the actual parachute drop. For example, on D-Day, he jumped with the F company, from a C47 transport plane, marked with a “chalk” number #9. The chalk numbers were scribbled on the side of the plane so the troops knew which plane they were assigned to.
On D-Day, Blanchard jumped with what might be considered the most famous stick of men ever, for they jumped directly over the French village of Sainte-Mère-Église. Unfortunately for them, the German defenders were alerted to their arrival and it ended badly for most of the troops. As many as 12 were killed, many before they even hit the ground. Some had their parachutes catch on telephone poles and were shot right in place, before they could take any action. Pvt. John Steele, the most notable trooper, ended up with his parachute catching on the church steeple and he played dead and was later captured, only to escape, even though wounded.
Blanchard ended up in a tree directly across the square from Steele and managed to escape by cutting his parachute lines with his jump knife. He fell 25 feet (8 meters) to the ground, wearing 85 pounds (39 kg) of gear. He managed to land safely and get away, even though he cut off a good portion of his left thumb in the process of getting out of the tree.
I have a list of 15 troops that jumped from the plane that night, I believe there were 16, but that could be an error. Blanchard reported (and related to me over the years) that the man just ahead of him “blew up,” on the way down. He strongly suspected that the man’s Gammon grenades took a hit from the ground fire. Nothing remained of the man to be found. Another man fell into a burning building in the village and he also exploded. Through process of elimination and research I’ve conclude that three men are unaccounted for:
Sgt. Edward White, PFC Penrose Shearer and PFC Alfred Van Holsbeck.
The has been a search going on since the war to find the “Parachute Manifest,” that would help conclude the order the men parachuted in, which might help solve the mystery of which man was where that night. We may never know. In any case, these brave men gave their lives for their country and a free world.
This blog, and the subsequent book are about Ernest R. Blanchard’s adventures. If you know someone that may have information about this unit in WW II, I would love to hear from you.
Dennis R. Blanchard