Captain Chet Graham was the Commanding Officer of Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment. On June 6, 1944 — D-Day — he was the commander of a 140-man unit that parachuted into France under cover of night to liberate the French from the German occupation. After the jump, my grandfather landed in a tree in the middle of an apple orchard just outside the small town of Le Port Filiolet.
This segment of the bio is about D-Day, and some of the actions that led to him being knighted by the French president in 2009 — the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur.
Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Shanley was originally commander of the 2nd Battalion 508. After he was injured, Lt. Colonel Mark Alexander took over. When Alexander was, in turn, injured, Captain Chester Graham became the new battalion commander and led the attack on Hill 95 in Normandy. Later, Corporal George Shenkle said, “I know that Chet Graham, although he held the rank of captain, was the most senior officer available to lead the attack that fortunately was successful although his efforts were never appreciated by Col. Lindquist (commander of the 508), for he removed Chet for being insubordinate. I find that later General Gavin was able to correct that situation to Chet’s appreciation.”
On D-Day June 6, 1944, after the jump, my group of approximately 80 men met with Colonel Shanley’s group of about 120 men on the outskirts of the town of Picauville. He and Major Shields Warren decided that Picauville was too heavily defended and would be too much to try to capture with just 200 men.
They contacted Colonel Lindquist by radio, who told them to move to Hill 30 and hold it. Hill 30 was the high ground in the area, and from it they could control a major road junction and the causeway across the Merderet River.
At 2400 hours on D-Day, the 200-man force was split into two columns with Shanley leading the left column and Warren the right. Lieutenant George Miles and I were to bring up the rear.
On the way to Hill 30, Miles and I went behind some trees to relieve ourselves when a shot was fired, and Miles was hit in the groin. A medic checked him and said it was too serious a wound to move him and might be fatal if he was moved. So the medic injected a shot of morphine into him to ease the pain and he was left there with two canteens of water. (Two days later we recovered Miles.)
>> Also see: Behind-the-wall account of D-Day invasion (1944)
On Hill 30, we were short of all kinds of supplies, including water. I remembered that a farmhouse where I landed had a well with an old-styled pump and handle. We asked the farmer if we could draw some drinking water from his well, and he agreed providing that we filled our canteens only during the night. He said that the German patrols were active in the area during the day but not at night.
I came to know the family that lived in that farmhouse after the war. The farmer’s name was Georges Marion. On one visit to Normandy after the war, I stopped by to see that family to thank them for letting us use their water, and I asked the owner how dangerous it was for him and his family during the Normandy invasion. He smiled and pointed to a nearby newly-built house and said, “One of your men left a torch (flashlight) in the old house that was standing there, and when the Germans found it, they burned the house to the ground and killed the lady who lived there. Oh yes, it was very dangerous!”
Georges Marion is a good friend of mine, and I see him every time I go to Normandy. He and his wife and family are good people and they always invite me to dinner whenever I visit. Their two-story house is built of sturdy stone blocks and is 300 years old.
Monsieur Marion’s father was shot and killed on June 10, 1944 by a man who joined our company just before the invasion. He “wanted to see if he could shoot a man.” What a tragedy!