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by Tumbleweed Smith

R. L. (Doc) Brinkley of Andrews joined the Army in 1943 when he was eighteen years old. It was during World War Two and he heard that paratroopers got extra money, so he signed up for paratroop training. "We had to have five jumps to qualify for our wings," says Doc. "It was quite an honor to earn those wings." There was no door on the plane that took them up for jumps. A red light meant get ready, green meant jump. He took advanced training in small weapons and hand-to-hand combat, "just like it would be on the front lines."

Doc took part in the largest military invasion in history. It occurred on June 6, 1944 on the coast of Normandy in France. It was dark when he landed. He was issued a cork and matches for camouflage. He blackened the cork and rubbed it on his face so it wouldn’t reflect any light.

He and his fellow jumpers were also issued a military version of a toy cricket, the little tin noisemaker. They devised a code for identification purposes. "If you heard somebody, you couldn’t see who it was. So you give them one click. He’s supposed to answer you with two clicks. If he doesn’t he’s not one of our guys."

Doc was a member of the 101st Airborne Division. He jumped with other paratroopers from Canada, France and England. "There were hundreds of planes that had flown for two hours getting in just the right position to let the paratroopers jump." Anti-aircraft fire hit the plane he was on just before he left it. Lots of the planes got shot down. Doc says he saw several on the ground in different places, with bodies still in them. Allied troops from Poland, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Holland, New Zealand and Norway also took part in the invasion. D-Day forces were deployed from bases along the southern coast of England.

"We landed in an open field. It was right in front of a thick natural fence or hedgerow made of trees and bushes. There was a German gun position just beyond the hedgerow. We were about a hundred yards from it. I hugged that ground for several hours. I had to. I was pinned down. If I had jumped up they would have got me. They started shooting at us with small arms. Tracers were hitting all around me."

At daylight the next day he and his fellow soldiers attacked that gun position. "A buddy of mine had a Browning automatic and he was shooting into the gun position on one end and we were on the other end. The Germans that weren’t shot we took as prisoners. I think there were 25 or 30 of them."

He was on the front lines for 33 days before he was relieved to go back to England for a break. "We were dirty and had little food. We had C-rations, but they didn’t last long. We scrounged food from farm houses."

Years later, Doc returned to the coast of Normandy and took pictures of the place where he landed. He still has his cricket and part of his parachute.

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