During the late afternoon of Monday, June 5th and the early morning hours of Tuesday, June 6, 1944, men across England heard, “This is the big day we’ve been waiting for.” It would prove to be a fateful day for three Milam County men, Private First Class Francisco “Frank” Garza, Private Weldon Douglas Scroggins and Major Paul Jones Stach.
At two different airfields in the English countryside, Frank Garza, Co. D, 2nd Battalion, and Weldon Scroggins, Co. H, 3rd Battalion, both members of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, began to prepare for the invasion of France. Frank would leave from the Saltby Airfield in Leicestershire, England, and Weldon’s unit would take-off from Folkingham Aerodrome in Lincolnshire, England.
It is impossible for any of us living today to understand the feelings of the men aboard those planes as the aircraft taxied to take-off, because each man knew if the invasion failed, there would be no rescue.
Their destination, located behind enemy lines, was at Drop Zone N, northeast of Ranville, France. Their mission was to destroy vital German supply bridges and capture causeways inland across swamplands and wetland areas behind the Normandy beaches where seaborne forces would land to gain control of roads. The 508th’s primary targets were the bridges over the Douve River, located at Brienville and Beuzeville-la-Bastille.
For the men of the 508th, the D-Day campaign began with their arrival over mainland Europe in darkened C-47 Dakota aircrafts that had taken-off from England and flown over the cold choppy waters of the English Channel.
After crossing the Cotentin Peninsula, which forms part of the northwest coast of France, the planes took-up course for their respective Drop Zones. The whole crossing took about 3-hours. The pilots experienced patches of low clouds and fog that caused many of the formations to break-up and stray off course.
Shortly, the pilots gave the 20-minutes “to go” warning to the paratroopers. The men began to stand and hook-up to the static lines running down the center of the aircraft ceiling. The planes dropped to an altitude of 700-feet and the red warning light was given and the men stepped to the doors of the aircraft. About 2:30 a.m., the pilots reduced throttle on the aircraft and the troopers were given the “go” signal.
The first men to see enemy action on D-Day were the airborne paratroopers who bailed out of their aircraft in the dark and entered a sky filled with tracer bullets and anti-aircraft flak.
The sky was filled with explosions caused by Germans firing furiously into the air at the planes that were being riddled with bullets as the pilots zigged and zagged trying to avoid anti-aircraft bursts. The bailouts began as pilots overshot the drop zones causing the paratroopers to be widely scattered over the countryside. Only about one-sixth of the 10,000 men dropped in the early morning hours of June 6th ever made it to their destination points.
The heavily laden paratroopers of the 508th landed in the swamplands, many sinking to their deaths. Each paratrooper carried 70-pounds of equipment and with their parachute, the men weighed in at 90 to 120 pounds over their body weight.
When they jumped, Garza and the members of the 2nd Battalion encountered a large contingent of German infantry. In a letter to the Garza Family dated August 18, 1945, one of Frank’s buddies wrote, “I can tell you everything about Frank but I won’t … he was killed about one minute after he hit the ground, he did not know anything, he jumped behind me and I was the first man to get to him but it was too late. We killed the jerry (German) that got him … there were five of them and we shot them after they gave up . . .”
Frank was the son of Jose Garza and Magdalena Contreras Salinas Garza. Today, his family still lives in Rockdale. However, his baby brother, Private First Class Nicolas Garza died as a Prisoner-of-War (POW) during the Korean War and is still classified as Missing-in-Action (MIA).
Today, Frank is resting at Normandy, as the family decided to leave him buried at the U.S. Military Cemetery at St. Laurent, France.
After Weldon Scroggins jumped the fateful morning of June 6th, he was classified as MIA until March 1945 when a “Report of Investigation of Isolated Grave or Unburied Remains” was filed. Records indicate his skull was crushed on the crown and right-side and his body was found near Chef du Pont, France.
Weldon’s brother, Carlis Scroggins, a retired U.S. Marine and veteran of the Korean and Vietnam Wars, remember that the family was told Weldon was the first to jump from his aircraft and that he and the second man to jump were missing for sometime.
The supposition of investigators was that he was killed while in the air and was dead before he hit the ground. Weldon’s body was identified by dog tags and pay book found on the remains as well as equipment on the body that had his name embossed.
He was originally buried in the Blosville-Carentan Cemetery in France but in 1948, the family had his remains returned to the United States and he was re-buried at the South Park Cemetery in Pearland, Texas.
Weldon was the son of William Henry and Ada (Jones) Scroggins. According to Carlis, Weldon attended Thorndale High School and members of the Scroggins family still live in the Thorndale area today.
There were over 1,200 casualties in the 82nd Airborne Division during the D-Day invasion. Of these deaths, the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment suffered 498 casualties: 307 killed-in-action, 26 died of battle wounds and 165 missing-in-action. This unit suffered the largest numbers of deaths for this operation of any unit assigned to the 82nd Airborne. The unit had 660 men who were wounded-in-action during the operation.
To learn more about this unit in World War II, read “History of the 508th Parachute Infantry” by Walter G. Lord, II, published in 1948 and re-printed in 1990.
Major Paul Stach was a pilot of a Martin B-26B Marauder (aircraft serial number 41-31961) and was assigned to the 455th Bombardment Squadron (Medium), 323rd Bombardment Group (Medium), 9th Air Force. On the morning of June 6th, Major Stach and the other aircraft of his unit took-off from the Earls Colne Airdrome in Essex, England.
Major Stach was leading his formation to bomb a road junction at Caen, France, located about 10-miles from Mezidon, when his plane was hit with anti-aircraft fire. The plane went down with six chutes opening out of the seven-man crew.
During a subsequent investigation, an unnamed civilian informant stated, “three Allied soldiers, one with a bandage around his head, approached the German First Aid Station opposite my house. The German Captain came out, and they shot the three against the wall of my house and buried them in a shallow pit. I got permission from the Kammandant to re-inter them deeper and buried them in my garden, against the road.”
This intelligence report is contained in the declassified, Missing Air Crew Report (MARC) No. 5527 found at the National Archives in College Park, MD.
According to Staff Sergeant George W. Forbs (Tail Gunner), who survived the war as a German POW, the aircraft was hit by flak at an altitude of about 3,000-feet and fire immediately broke out in the bomb bay section and Major Stach gave the order to abandon ship. Post-mission reports by other aircrews that witnessed the event, stated, “Major Stach’s plane was first struck by flak in the left-wing and shortly it was again hit with flak in the nose, wings and bomb bay and caught fire.”
In addition to Forbs, Staff Sergeant John Westran (Aerial Engineer) and Sergeant Richard Findley (Photographer) survived the crash and remained as POWs throughout the remainder of the war.
Major Stach was the son of Steve and Stephanie (Hatla) Stach and graduated from Texas A&M University, Class of 1941. He attended Yoe High School in Cameron.
He was originally buried in a communal grave in the garden at No. 10 Reu de Falaise, Argentan, France. He and his comrades were disinterred and re-buried at the U.S. Military Cemetery at Marigny-St. Lo, France. After the war, his family had his remains returned to the United States and he was re-buried at the National Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas.
The 323rd’s unit motto was “Vincamus Sine Timoris” – Without Fear We Conquer – and duuring the early morning raid on France, Major Stach and his crew lived up to the motto.
Sixty years ago, Allied forces surprised Adolph Hitler by invading Europe in rough weather from the English Channel at its widest point, the coast of Normandy. The Battle of Normandy, involved soldiers from the United States, Great Britain and its Commonwealth countries as well as other Allied countries, in landings at 12 points along 100-miles of coast from west of Cherbourg to Le Havre. It is regarded as the deciding battle in World War II and the greatest combined seaborne and airborne invasion in history.
The 2004 Anniversary may be the last at which significant numbers of veterans, many of whom are now in their 80s and 90s, will be able to make the journey to France or participate in Commemorative Ceremonies throughout the United States. The D-Day battle took the lives of 40,549 allied soldiers in the first 15-days of fighting, and war injuries and old age have claimed the lives of tens of thousands more since 1944.
Today, on the 60th Anniversary of D-Day, we honor the memory of these three young men who, for a while in their short lives, are a part of the Milam County community and we honor the men who returned from the Battle of Normandy. These men gave their youth to preserve the freedoms every American enjoys today. By holding onto these memories, their sacrifice and the families will never be forgotten.
The Milam County Genealogical Society (MCGS) continues in its researcher endeavors to write the history of every man on the Milam County War Memorial located on the Courthouse grounds in Cameron.
For more information on this project, visit the MCGS’s webpage on-line at < http://www.geocities.com/milamco/ > or attend their meetings at 7 p.m. on the 4th Tuesday of every month at the CNB Bank Conference Room (enter from back alley) located across the street from the Lucy Hill Patterson Memorial Library, 140 E. Cameron & Ackerman in Rockdale.
We must say a special thank you to Jan Jordan of Kingsville, Texas, for typing the above thesis for use on the Milam County TXGenWeb site.
Created on 28 Sept 2004 and last revised on __________