Veteran glided in behind enemy lines on D-Day


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June 6 is the 74th anniversary of D-Day when we pay tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice at Normandy and honor those who lived to fight another day. Here is the story of one brave Veteran who was there.

D-Day, June 6, 1944, the largest amphibious invasion in history. Over 150,000 American, British, and Canadian troops stormed the beaches of Normandy, but over 15,000 airborne soldiers dropped in behind enemy lines on D-Day. Most parachuted in, but over a thousand landed in Normandy inside gliders made of plywood.

Ninety-seven-year-old Millcreek, Utah, resident John “Jack” Whipple (pictured above) piloted one of the hundreds of gliders to set down in the fields of France on that June morning.

“After we landed we became infantry men.”

Tow planes delivered Jack and hundreds of other fearless flyers to the air over Northern France. Whipple was behind the controls of an Airspeed Horsa the day of the invasion.

“When we came over Utah Beach we received some ground fire,” said Whipple.  “Then we flew over the Germans, and received a lot more fire.”

Horsa Glider

Horsa Glider

Allied forces used two gliders in the invasion: the Waco CG-4A and the Airspeed Horsa. These were not the modern sail planes of today, but cargo and troop carriers.  The CG-4 carried a pilot and co-pilot, 13 soldiers and their equipment, or a jeep and two or three soldiers.

Whipple’s Horsa carried him and co-pilot, a jeep, an anti-tank gun, four soldiers that morning, but the Horsa could also be configured to carry 30 soldiers and their gear. The total weight of a loaded Horsa hovered around 15,000 pounds.

After the tow planes cut the gliders loose, pilots had just moments to find their landing zone.

“The quicker the better,” said Whipple. “They were shooting at us – probably 3 to 4 minutes.”

To make matters worse, reconnaissance photos given to pilots were months old.

“The photos had been taken in January or February and the trees had no leaves,” Whipple recalled. When we got there, the trees were in full leaves and we missed our main check point.”

Jack Whipple, 1944

Jack Whipple, 1944

Losing altitude, Whipple picked a field to land in, but quickly realized it wasn’t big enough. He slammed the glider in to the ground, ripping off the landing gear. He then performed an intentional ground loop, digging one wing into the ground, thus slowing the glider and protecting the fuselage. A maneuver, which all these years later, Whipple points out, was authorized.

“We landed, didn’t hurt anybody or the major equipment,” he said.

At this point, his role shifted.

“Glider pilots did the flying, and right after we landed we became infantry men. Most glider pilots were trained as infantry men, but we couldn’t wear the infantry badge because we weren’t in their unit. We were still in the air corps.” Whipple said.

“We landed behind enemy lines. We had about perhaps five or six Horsa gliders. We got together after landing and helped those who were injured. We got attacked that night, but we were able to keep the group together and able to keep the enemy away.”

Troops aboard a Horsa glider

Troops aboard a Horsa glider

The airborne assault on German forces was a key part of the allied invasion.

“It made it easier because the Germans then had to fight both sides of a squeeze,” said Whipple, squeezing his hands together. “The people coming on the beach—and the airborne.”

And while hundreds of gliders may not sound like a lot, the gliders provided the airborne units equipment to combat heavy and mechanized infantry, and needed supplies to operate behind enemy lines.  Whipple flew two additional combat glider missions—one in Holland and the final one as part of the Rhine Crossing.

After returning from the war, he earned his private pilot license, and flew all over the U.S., Canada and Mexico.


Jeremy Laird is a proud Army Veteran, and loves telling the stories of our Veterans. He joined the communications team at VA Salt Lake City Health Care System in 2015 following a 20-year career in broadcast journalism.Author: Jeremy Laird is a proud Army Veteran, and loves telling the stories of our Veterans.  He joined the communications team at VA Salt Lake City Health Care System in 2015 following a 20-year career in broadcast journalism.

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Comments

  1. Nick Zynko,. USAF Retired    

    Hero- Ordinary men doing extraordinary tasks! Mr. Whipple’s story of bravery and sacrifice echo’s the thousands of others who were tasked to drop in behind enemy lines on that mission. We lost many brave men and I am humbled to hear thier stories. As we remember D-day we owe them and all the WW2 vets a debt that can never be repaid. Thank you Mr. Whipple your actions saved millions of lives as the war was won.

  2. Rick Dumas, USMC 1968-71    

    I am humbled by Mr Whipple’s bravery, determination and sacrifice. Indeed a hero, to whom we all should be grateful for the freedom we enjoy today.

  3. Michael Heiser    

    Thank you so much. It’s an amazing story and much appreciated. I’d say all these men were the very definition of: Hero

  4. Richard V. Jones    

    Thank you very much for the story here! I was with the Airborne and can see the realistic value and the memory of great Americans in action.

  5. William Wessels    

    God Bless and keep you always Sir, and all who served with you. You all provided exemplary service to a world desperately in need of the greatest prayer and sacrifice that you provided. Once again the World is faced with enormous dilemmas which are far worse than any of us ever contemplated at this time. Prayer and sacrifice will again determine the outcome. Hopefully we are up to the task.

  6. Dale Wilson    

    The photo depicts a CG-4A Waco glider, NOT a Horsa. The Horsa had a long, cylindrical fuselage.

    1. The_Tech_Son    

      Dale Wilson,

      Your comment detracts from the essence of this story. It is about the men NOT the equipment. Your words are an excellent example of the overwhelming negativity of our times. You took the effort and time to sharpshoot the technical aspects of the article, and consciously omit anything positive. You might want to back off the firing line and recalibrate.

      1. Rich Pulin    

        You are an insane idiot for printing a stupid cruel message like this! SHAME ON YOU!

  7. Steven Henry    

    My great uncle flew a glider and was shot down behind enemy lines and lived in a cave for two weeks before he was rescued.

  8. Greg ArndtEF3G    

    How America keeps finding men like these is amazing. Every time the call is sounded brave men step up. Even Vietnam with its issues had so many extraordinarily brave men to do a job and they were good at it. Iraq and Afghanistan calls again and the brave step up. I pray today’s men coming up can answer the call if needed. Our media and today’s society are not favorable to the military. That will be a grave mistake. Treasure and be proud of these brave men.

    1. Karen Wall    

      A great book, “Silent Wings” talked about how the initial qualification standards was that the applicants had to be college graduates. Well, no one was signing up, so the standards got lowered, and then lowered, until it became anyone who finished high school and was basically crazy enough to want to fly a giant balsa wood coffin! I always tell my friends that my dad being Irish was the deciding factor and that is why I would probably have done it to!!

  9. Sidney A Spencer    

    I salute you Mr. Whipple, your generation answered your country’s call admirably. The majority of your generation came off the farms and from the not so well off. My dad Cego Spencer and his brother William were two of nine children raised by only their mom in a sharecropper farm in rural Alabama. As a member of the “Sons of the Greatest Generation,” we who served in Vietnam were thankful for leading the way for us by setting the patriotic examples you did. Thank you Sir, thank God for keeping you around to con to influence generations thus far.
    “SALUTE”
    A1c Sidney Spencer, 1966
    Hq 1/8(Airborne), 1st Bgde
    1st Calvary(Airmobile) Div
    Central Highlands
    Republic if South Vietnam

  10. Derek W Ayers    

    God Bless US Soldiers! These men go above and beyond the call of duty to ensure the freedom of our country. I’m a Desert Shield/Storm Veteran Marine Combat Engineer so I definitely know the rules of engagement of WAR… OOH RAH SEMPER FIDELIS! USMC Derek Ayers 1990-1994

  11. Robert Funke    

    Thankfully sir, you survived that day, and many more.You and your brothers rose to the occasion and set off the second front so desperately needed.Thank you.

  12. Showalter Danny L    

    My neighbor Mr. White who passed away this last year also piloted on of the Gliders.

    Clinton, MT

  13. The_Tech_Son    

    Jack Whipple, you are the reason that I am so proud of my fellow veterans. Your performing a critical operation, with lackluster intelligence is a testament to how the real world differs from so many Hollywood movies. You are the true hero.

  14. Cranston Christopher    

    I am fascinated with military history , especially America’s
    I marvel ever time I watch the documentaries of these extraordinary brave men in gliders and the B-17 and B-29 bombers.
    I watch(with great sadness and joy (hard to explain) eventho so man years have gone by) because I never want to forget what they did and all the sacrifices they made. I have my grand children watch and explain as best I can what it was all about. So many of our gliders crashed and many were killed. GOD BLESS THEM ALL & ALL OUR VETERANS

  15. Cranston Christopher    

    You provide many interesting articles and love the personal experiences and seeing the faces related to the stories.

  16. Rich Pulin    

    Hey Mr. Whipple!

    Congratulations, and God Bless You!
    97 Years of age!
    I hope that they’ve all been good ones!

    Kindly SP4 Rich Pulin
    US Army, 8th Infantry Division Band
    Bad Kreuznach, Germany
    1964-65

  17. Eldon Roush    

    I think we can all say our many thanks to those that have served in our armed services, especially in time of war. This was a short story of a veteran’s war life and duty that could easily become a book…even a motion picture!

  18. George Lewis    

    Glider troops never got the credit they deserved. Airborne got the money and the women all the time. “All the Way”
    503rd-173rd Abn

  19. Geoffrey Meade    

    My father, Roderic Meade, was a US glider pilot, although he was seconded to the Brits, who were short on glider pilots, on D-Day. He trained with British commandos in Scotland and flew them in over Juno Beach on D-Day. Although he also flew American CG4A “Waco” gliders, he was piloting a British Horsa (named for an ancient Saxon war leader) on D-Day. He was shot down behind German lines and was apparently the only survivor in his flight of 3. The wreckage was mortared after crashing, and he suffered a head wound, broken back, and badly broken leg. When he was finally rescued by American troops, more than a week later, they found him among bodies and thought he was dead until they tried to put him into a body bag. Despite his wounds, he was recalled for Korea, and served as an Air Force officer until retiring as a Colonel after Vietnam. He and I actually went on R&R together from Vietnam in 1968.

  20. Joseph Smith    

    Great article on a great Vet and Great Generation! Thanks for sharing!

  21. Karen Wall    

    WOW! What a great article, and a small world! Jack Whipple may well have been trained by, and flew with, my dad, Edward “Buzz” Wall, also a glider-jock. He flew the WACO CG4-A and trained other pilots. My dad passed away in 1992, but his best stories were about his gliders! His ride was named “Hazel”, after his wife at the time. I LOVE seeing stories about the gliders! I highly recommend the DVD “Silent Wings”. Thanks for the story!

  22. Tim P Lash    

    Thank you Mr Whipple for your brave service.

  23. Gary Allin    

    Author Jeremy Laird, do you know with which troop carrier squadron or group Jack Whipple flew? My father was a C-47 pilot in the 87th Troop Carrier Squadron of the 438th Troop Carrier Group out of Greenham Commons and flew in the 101st Airborne on D-Day. He towed gliders and dropped paratroopers. He also retrieved gliders out of the drop zones while flying his plane “Drag ’em Oot”.

  24. Juan Antonio Martinez    

    As a USAF Veteran I still hold dear my time in the Air Force back in 62-65. Being a 17 year old kid did not matter since my dad fought with the 82nd. Airborne and saw combat over in Europe. Didn’t talk about it but then most combat troops don’t…too painful or horrific, as most wars are. There were 3 of us. My twin brother, my cousin and that’s it. All three of us went in and did our service and darn proud of it too. Unfortunately, my twin and cousin are both deceased. Both buried at San Antonio TX National cemetery in San Antonio TX. where I expect to be put to rest one day. OK, that’s it. bye

  25. Harold Anderson    

    What impressed me most was that he flew an additional two more glider missions, that’s very impressive!!!

  26. Stephen Barusso    

    Those glider pilots were tough motor Scooters! Took a lot of courage to fly and land those gliders. Have a lot of praise for those troops. God bless them all that made it home and bless the souls of those who did not.

  27. Dan Pierproint    

    Thank you, well stated.

  28. LTC(R) Ron Ashton    

    Mr. Whipple,

    You ARE my HERO!!

Comments are closed.