Written by Captain John R. Manning

Portrait of Captain John R. Manning, 82nd Airborne Officer during D-Day and Market Garden

John R. Manning was a combat officer with the 319th Glider Infantry Regiment in World War II. His story, isn his own words, is featured on Bill Bonnamy’s great labor of love, a website devoted to the history of the 319th Glider Field Artillery of the 82nd Airborne Division. Manning served as an Executive Officer, a Battery Commander, and as an S-3 (operations officer) at the battalion level. His role in Market Garden is recounted extensively on the Warfare History Network website as well as on 319Gliderman.com. There excerpt below is from Bill’s website, where Manning’s whole memoir can be read in its entirety.

On December 8, 1941 I received my telegram to report to active duty at the Field Artillery Replacement center at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. This was a bitter blow to my parents and their plans to retire. Looking back on the war years, I often think how bleak it was for those left at home. True, the troops faced many dangers, but, if they survived, they had memorable experiences.

Fort Bragg was a large induction center at which all the newcomers were given 13 weeks of basic training and made ready for eventual assignment to permanent units. The strict physical training was fun for me – and the camaraderie of many other young men in similar straits made the time pass easily.

My permanent assignment was to the Artillery of the 82nd Division. This was a unit with a past history as being the Division of Sergeant York, one of the individual heroes of World War I. We had gone through about 10 weeks of re-training as a Unit, when the camp erupted with brass and we were assembled for a special announcement.

Generals Bradley, Ridgeway, and Taylor gave us a big pep talk and broke the news that the 82nd Division was to become 2 airborne divisions – the 82nd and the 101st. We all were congratulated on the selection and told we could either jump out of airplanes or ride in gliders towed behind to be dropped inside enemy lines. At first, they put a weight limit on parachutists of 175-180 lbs. I couldn’t make this, and must say I was a bit relieved. The gliders seemed to be somewhat the better of two poor risks.

We trained intensively, mostly as ground troops with minimal equipment and support. It was thought that our airborne missions would usually leave us in this state – one time the “planned thinking” was correct.

Glider training flights became a regular part of our work. I had thought that I might be prone to airsickness, but took to the bouncing, swaying, canvas and pipe birds quite well.

I related well to the men, and was soon an executive officer in “B” Battery. Perhaps I related too well – particularly when it came to being permissive. We had an inspection scheduled by some brass from 3rd Army, one time, and I earned a reprimand from our Colonel. We were told to line up along the edge of the parade ground and be ready when the inspecting party arrived. Naturally, it has to be the third day of continuing rain. We waited for about 90 minutes. I thought the men should have a break and I allowed them to break ranks. Finally the brass arrived and I hastily re-formed the battery. I had not noticed that many of the men had taken off their helmets while on break and used them as stools to rest on. When the inspectors came down the ranks of all these wet soldiers with mud circles on top of their helmets – they were not amused.

Tunis to Bizerte – headed for the invasion of Sicily.

We went by truck convoy through Tunis to Bizerte – headed for the invasion of Sicily. At Bizerte we camped on the shores of the Sea – naturally, yours truly insisted on pitching the officer’s tent on the highest and windiest bluff – everything tasted like sand because it was sand.

Our first contact with war operations consisted in ducking the dropping flak from our own anti-aircraft batteries which were supposedly protecting us from German attack. After two days we were informed that our side had lost so many transport planes that there were not any left for us. We were to by-pass Sicily and land at Salerno by LCI and LST.

We proceeded to the beach at Maiori about 10pm. No opposition. We gradually felt our way across the highway and into some garden-vineyard areas. After everyone was accounted for, we decided to wait for morning to assess the situation. In the AM I found our “C” battery group was cozily nestled up against a sturdy pig-sty. That day was spent in familiarizing ourselves with our surroundings and orienting ourselves on the map. Still no sign of any opposition.

The road went straight in from the beach and up a valley alongside a mountain called Montefiore (Mountain of fire) – as it has at one time been the location of many small volcanoes.

The former volcanic character of the mountain worked in our favor – the craters were not too steep or deep, and made for very good foxholes. The entire top of the ridge was lava-like granules and made for easy digging when we needed to. I remember establishing a foxhole for myself on our side of the ridge, wrapping up in a blanket at the bottom of the hole and going to sleep for the night. In the morning, I noticed something draping over the edge of the hole. Thankfully, I moved cautiously to see what was going on. In the night we had been sent some Gurkhas as reinforcements, and I was being guarded by one – with one of the longest knives I had seen yet! We were to find that they were very efficient soldiers.

We had a wide valley area of targets, including vehicle parks, troop concentrations, and highways. Our presence became a problem to the enemy and they got quite active with counter fire. Somehow, it became possible to endure their artillery, but when the multi-barreled rockets started it was a different story. We tried to target the rocket launchers, but they were mobile and were kept parked under bridges or overpasses between firings. We were blessed with some replacement officers who had to take turns at the OP – One stood up and focused his glasses on a rocket launcher location. They spotted him and we had to carry him off on a stretcher.


The paratroops took off in their DC-3s during the night of June 5th; the Glider Infantry right behind them. The Glider Artillery was to take off in the late afternoon of June 6th. It was a sight to remember. The sky was like a 5 mile wide Thruway – jammed with planes, and planes with Gliders in tow. We were given the English Horsa plywood gliders as it- was thought they could carry more cargo. It turned out they were also more clumsy and could drop like a rock when disconnected from the tow ship.

It was almost dusk as we flew over the “White Cliffs of Dover.” At any other time it would have been very scenic. Our only concern was for our survival to become part of the operation after landing. As we arrived over the French countryside we received quite a bit of flak and machine gun fire. Corporal Jameson, a medic I had requested from Captain Bedingfield, was taken out by the machine gun fire.

The pilot of the tow plane was getting very uncomfortable. He told us to cut loose, or he would cut us loose at his end of the tow line. We complied quickly in order to preserve what maneuverability we could. The pilot and co-pilot asked me to take one of their watches and stand between them to count down the seconds for our glide in.

These gliders land at 90 miles per hour with the brakes fully locked – and just run it out. We picked the largest field we could identify in our range of possibilities – hit it near dead center and were on a dead run for a row of big trees. We must have hit between two trunks. I came to on a pile of rubble still holding the watch. The pilot was hung up in one tree; the co-pilot was dead on the ground. I found my right hand to be cradling my partially disconnected thumb. Naturally, I bypassed my medical packet and wrapped the thumb in a dirty handkerchief. I dragged out my 45 Colt and tried to take charge.

The enemy soldiers near us appeared to be confused and scared, so it was possible to assess our situation. Part of the cargo had been my Jeep. PFC Louis Sosa, my driver, had gone to sleep in the jeep on the way over the channel. He was completely unhurt. We had lost 4 other men besides Jameson, and 5 or 6 had injuries of various types.

I found that I could hardly move my back. Sergeant Frank Marshall, my battery supply sergeant, took over for me and got the glider unloaded and the men formed up. We found ourselves near a farm lane which appeared to lead in the compass direction of St. Mere Eglise (our focus point) so we proceeded down it.

We met up with Sergeant Johnson, my First Sergeant of Battery A and a group from his glider (which had landed quite smoothly). I set up a command post and we gradually rounded up about half of our battery. We lost Sergeant Wade and his crew in a tragic way – they had landed safely and were enroute to our area when an incoming glider landed right on top of them ­killing them all. By afternoon I was able to get my group to St.-Mere-Eglise and check in with Battalion.

They decided that my right hand was useless and I should head out the medic evacuation route.

A mass of organized confusion

Some thoughts on war. The landing in Normandy was our first involvement at the middle of the main action. This is what we had been preparing for since the first days at Fort Bragg. It is terrifying. A mass of organized confusion.

One’s dependence is heavily on oneself, even though your comrades in arms are supporting you as you are supporting them – be it in hand to hand combat, or in supporting artillery fire. Death and injuries become almost mundane.

One cannot help but feel deep sympathy for the civilians ‘whose lives are on the line, and whose properties are being destroyed. I found that I survived by concentrating on each immediate problem – how to get to the next corner, or map location; making a schedule to get us through the next few hours; trying to secure our position through the night.

As each problem was solved, or changed, we could measure our progress to the next plateau. We found, as we went through the various campaigns, which this attitude served us well – in moving forward, or in retreat. There is no time to worry about one’s own mortality, or about the progress in the “big picture”. One has to develop confidence in himself and in his immediate group – then, after one step at a time, the end, of any given operation, suddenly arrives.

The casualties at Normandy were extreme – mostly from the beach landings. My thumb injury received a quick stitch or two, a heavy dose of Sulfa, a bandage, and a ticket to be put on a hospital transport. The Transport was a large freighter which had brought over supplies for the landings. The side walls of the hull were hung with hammocks and we were each assigned one.

While we waited for the ship to fill up we went through three bombing raids, but with only minor damage. The trip across the channel was a bit rough as the ship was riding quite high in the water. The seriously wounded men had a very hard time of it.

My thumb was re-attached

I ended up at a Field Hospital in Malvern in southwestern England. My thumb was re-attached and skin was grafted from my leg. The first graft did not take, but the second procedure was successful. My back injury seemed to be gradually improving. I was given some exercise therapy and extended rest. By wheedling information from Nurses Haines and Hagen (from Utica, NY), I was able to slip out of the hospital after a month. I did not want to be re-assigned to a repo-depot.

Market Garden

By September we were again on the alert. The first operation got cancelled, then we became a part of the “Market Garden” operation dreamed up by Lord Montgomery. It was a plan to cross through the central portion of Holland and strike into Germany from the northwest – being the upper arm of a pincers movement, with General George Patton’s army on the opposite arm from the south. As history records, our operation, as a whole, was only partially successful.

As we approached the coast of Holland we could see the dikes and roadway systems very clearly – and they could see us! We received a lot of flak, but our glider only had superficial hits. It was very uncomfortable being such an obvious target.

The daylight helped us make out the landmarks and we spotted a crossroad near Groesbeek, and cut loose. Just in time, our tow plane went down in flames a few minutes later. We dropped into a large field in a rather steep glide – and dug up about ten bushels of potatoes as we plowed our way to a stop. We unloaded the jeep, trailer and equipment and got on the road. No injuries in the flight or landing.

My first contact with the Dutch people was shortly after. We stopped at a small house where I saw a woman in the yard, to confirm our direction. She was very helpful and pulled a jug of milk up out of the well for refreshment. I’m not much of a milk drinker, but I will always remember how good that tasted.

We blew up two flame throwers and a few tanks

We were immediately involved in supporting the capture of Nijmegen and its bridge over the Waal River. This operation was a strenuous one for the paratroopers and other infantry we supported. We did not get much close contact with enemy ourselves. However, before the crossing had been secured, we were assigned to support the 325th, which was holding the southeastern border of our encircled sector. They were near the town of Mook, and were receiving pressure.

The troops were quite uneasy and the attackers had tanks and flame throwers. The situation deteriorated quickly, as they brought in more equipment against us. I took over directing the artillery. We were able to drop the artillery rounds on the attackers within 25 or 30 yards of where we sat. We blew up two flame throwers, a few tanks, and caused a good amount of damage and confusion. Finally got things cooled off. Evidently the Germans were impressed enough to take their attack somewhere else.

Evidently this action was a more important part of the scheme of things than I imagined. I was awarded the Silver Star, and the Order of the Bronze Lion by the Netherlands government.

“The only hill in Holland”

Shortly after, we were alerted to move over the Waal Bridge and go into place to support the Arnhem assault. On the north side of the river, we were in flat farmland – cabbage patches. Where we had landed on the south side we had been on “the only hill in Holland” complete with some heavily treed areas. The new location improved the range and breadth of fire for our batteries, but left them more exposed. It also cut back on the positions for artillery observation posts. We were given two pilots and two Piper Cub planes to use for observation. One capable pilot and one not so capable. Most of the time, I was able to get Morgan, the capable one. In the book “A Bridge too Far,” which was written about this campaign, they mention the artillery support of one operation involving the silencing of a German 88. It was unsuccessful because the artillery response was too slow. I’ll always believe it was I and the not so capable pilot who flubbed.

Our battalion received Division commendation for the roles we had played in the Holland operation. Even then, though, it seemed such a waste of lives, time, and money. In my opinion, General Montgomery‘s self-aggrandizement got the best of Eisenhower and we were committed to a cause which was unsupportable.