Original US M2 D-bale helmet ID'd to a trooper of the 508th PIR, 82nd Airborne

 

How I "found" the former owner of this helmet, who he was and what he did.

 

The liner is an airborne model with A-frame buckles and russet brown leather chin-cup with chamois lining.

The D-Bales have been rigger repaired as commonly seen with original D-bale helmets; the bales were inherently weak and often broke during use. In the case of this helmet; at the time that the d-bales were being brazed on, the riggers fitted the helmet with standard infantry chinstraps. Note how around the bales, the factory green paint has been effected by the heat of the brazing.

 

The helmet originally surfaced being locally found in Europe and was in the possession of a French collector before being sold to a friend in the USA in whose collection it remained for many years. I recently acquired it from this collector in an exchange. Then I set out to try and find to whom it had belonged.

   

The interior of the helmet is fairly rusty but fortunately the service number ( 15103774) was legible enough to clearly make out. The name above was only partially visible; an "H", a partial "i" and an "L"

A search for this number in the database of US army enlistment records turned up the name; Owen B. Hill. Then I understood the letters atop the service number inside the helmet. They spelled simply: "HILL"

Searching the rosters of the 82nd airborne website, I found Hill to have been a member of headquarters company, 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute infantry regiment.

Next I started searching the website of the 508th Parachute infantry regiment association. A little more digging netted this photo:

Further searching through a variety of sources; I was able to assemble Hill's biography:

Owen B. Hill was born October 8, 1921 in Fort Branch, IN; educated there and in Princeton, IN. On October 21, 1940, he married Margaret Boyles. They had two children. Linda Ann born August 12, 1941 and Joe David arrived September 14,1948.
 

Soon after Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the Army and volunteered for airborne training. However, he had to complete basic training, before he was sent to the Parachute School at Fort Benning, GA. After he made the five jumps and qualified as parachutist, he was selected for additional training as a communications and demolition specialist. He completed the training, in March 1943, and was sent to Camp Mackall, NC for duty with the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment (508th PIR). He was assigned to the Hq1 Communications Platoon, and served therein until the end of WW II. At Camp Mackall, he received advanced infantry and airborne operations training. He participated in numerous field exercises, and made parachute jumps with equipment. The 508th sailed from New York, December 28. 1943. Eleven days later, they landed in Belfast, Ireland. After orientations on the local customs, physical training to restore muscles lost during the sea voyage, and weapons firing, they moved to Nottingham, England.

According to Hill; "In early June 1944, the 508th moved to an airport, and completed preparations for entry into combat. We spent many hours studying sand tables, mockups and maps, but no one knew where we would land in Europe. After we were in our C-47 aircraft, we were told the objective was in Normandy.

"My first combat jump was Normandy, D-Day 6 June 1944 we had blackened our faces because it was a night operation, and carried an enormous combat load, including individual weapons, extra ammunition, explosives, and rations . I threw my gasmask away, and filled the rubber carrier with cigarettes and other goodies, just as others did !"

The record of the C-47 which transported Hill's "stick" to the drop-zone:

FOLKINGHAM AIRFIELD - SERIAL 22 - HQ 1st
The 313th Troop Carrier Group, 9th Air Force flew the 508th 1st and 3rd Battalions into Normandy. Each Serial consisted of Six V's (Flights) of aircraft, three to a 'V' for the assault flight.  Designation - Drop Zone 'N' near Etienville and Beauzeville la Bastille.  The Green Light time was 0230. 

                                      FLIGHT 1      Chalk #1      C-47 #43-30648 19 paratroopers

                                       1. Capt Gerard A. Ruddy (C.O., Hq  1st)-                   KIA, 6 Jun1944
                                      2. 1/Lt Charles McElligott (Commo, Platoon Ldr)        WIA/POW 6 Jun1944                     
                                      3.  T/5 Andrew H. Hritzko (Commo)-                          KIA, 6 Jun1944
                                      4.  Sgt Joseph F. Gagnon (Commo)                              POW 6 Jun 1944                                  
                                      5.  Cpl John J. Marshall                                                POW 6 Jun 1944                               
                                      6.  Unknown (Medic)                                                                                                               
                                      7.  1/Sgt Earl J. Smith-                                                 KIA, 6 Jun1944
                                      8.  Pfc Arthur B. Jacoby (Staff Section, S2)                                                                             
                                      9.  Pvt Garfield Wilkinson (Commo)                            WIA 8 Jan 1945                                  
                                      10.  T/5 Robert A. Marchese (Commo)                       WIA 8 Jun 1944                                  
                                      11.  SSgt Raymond J. Hummel (Staff Section)              WIA 17 Sep 1944                              
                                      12.  Pvt Otis Eugene Hull  (Staff Section, S2)              WIA/EVA, 3 Jul 1944                       
                                      13.  Pfc David M. Jones  (Staff Section)                       WIA 3 Jul 1944                                 
                                      14.  Cpl James J. McMahon (Commo)?                                                                               
                                      15.  Pvt Melvin H. Beets (Commo)                              WIA 6 Jun 1944                                  
                                      16.  Cpl William H. Brown (Commo)                          WIA 5 Oct 1944                                  
                                      17.  T/4 Owen B. Hill (Commo, Demo)                       WIA 13 Jun 1944,  WIA 26 Jan 1945 
 

Hill landed near Beauzeville-la Bastille about 2 miles to the South-west of Sainte-Mere-Egliese. This is how Hill described his landing:

"The impact when I hit the water was violent. I was sinking rapidly in the muddy current of the Douve. I couldn't move and the inescapable feeling of death seized my mind and my body. Finally, my feet touched solid ground and I stood up and pushed myself out of the water. Suddenly a ray of hope - my mouth came up above the water!"

"Others were less lucky and drowned, sometimes even in shallow waters our CO, Capt. Gerard A. Ruddy [ #1 in Hill's "stick"] was killed almost right after hitting the ground, and Lt. McElligot [ #2 in Hill's "stick"; WIA June 6] took over . We managed to regroup, after avoiding German patrols, taking cover in hedgerows or hiding in ditches, and met other stragglers, from different units, until we were about 55 strong, under the command of S/Sgt Ray Hummel [#11 in Hill's "stick"]".

(Read the story of S/Sgt Hummel's group during the fight at the Douve river near where it meets the Merderet, June 6- 11, 1944: http://www.508pir.org/pdf_files/bio_hummel_raymond_j.pdf )

 

A summary of Hill's D-day experiances by Dominique Francois as told to him by O.B.Hill in 1999:

During the C-47 flight to Normandy, Hill was in the last position of his jump stick. He had earlier changed places with 2nd Lt McElliot as the former preferred to jump directly after captain Ruddy. This last minute change may well have saved Hill's life as Ruddy was KIA shortly after landing and McElliot received a stomach wound and was shortly thereafter captured by the Germans.

After exiting the aircraft and hanging from the canopy of his opened parachute, Hill could feel small arms rounds striking his equipment. (Later he found that rounds had penetrated his gas mask bag and perforated his cigarettes packages.) During his descent Hill could see the flooded area of the Douve river in the moon-light. He landed in a flooded portion near the river and was able to detach himself from his harness while under un-interrupted fire from a single unseen enemy. Hill evaded this danger and later while under cover he heard footsteps coming in his direction then watched as 4-5 Germans passed close by; "So close that I could have reached out and touched their helmets"

Some time later while moving, Hill heard the challenge word "Thunder"; he immediately responded 'Oh shit" having completely forgotten the correct response. Fortunately the other soldier remained calm and recognized Hill's voice. It was Corporal brown from Detroit; one of Hill's men. They compared their observations and decided that they were heading in the right direction; not too far from the bridge that they had been sent to destroy. They soon encountered another group commanded by Sgt Raymond Hummel from the same company.

In the absence of an officer and with the intention of establishing their position, Both NCOs decided to climb to the upper floor of a farm building. Followed by Cpl MacMahon they made their way to a window that overlooked the road. Suddenly there was a noise that made the building shudder; three German tanks coming down the road (actually French M35 Renault medium tanks which were re-utilized by the Germans) As the middle of the three tanks drew up directly beneath the window, Sgt Hill dropped a Gammon grenade onto it exploding and disabling the engine. The turrets of the remaining two turned in various directions seeking the assailment while the paratroopers withdrew.

The following day, Hill's group was in a field next to the village, when a group of German soldiers appeared in the courtyard of the barn they were occupying. Hill and Hummel threw grenades into the courtyard but the Germans seeing them, scattered before the detonations. Just at this instant Hill noticed a young french girl who was in the courtyard. After the grenades exploded, he could see no trace of her and believed that she had been killed ( Hill believed so until meeting this same woman while on a return trip some 30 years after the war. She had been wounded and shocked by the blast but had survived)

 

 Hill went on to fight at "Hell's Half acre"; the patch of land south of the town of Chef Du Pont; a small arched bridge over the Merderet river had to be taken but the 508th met fierce German resistance. This area is also known as Hill 30.

"Over the next 5 days, we lost about 14 of our men and started getting short of ammo but we fought on, We had no choice . When the 90th Infantry Division finally got to us, I think it was the afternoon of June 11, we finally got relieved . I was wounded on June 13, and was eventually evacuated to England, via Utah Beach, a few days later ."

  Owen Hill was wounded on June 13 and evacuated back to England. (This may be the point at which he was "separated" from his jump helmet.)

He rejoined Hq1 in December 1944 at Sissonne, France. His joyful reunion with comrades was brief. On December 17, the regiment was alerted to confront a massive German force moving swiftly though the Ardennes aimed at capturing the English Channel ports. Early on December 18, Hq1 loaded into open trucks for a terribly long cold ride to Werbomont, Belgium. During an attack, January 26, O.B Hill was again wounded and evacuated. (This could also be the point at which he was "separated" from his jump helmet.)

Hill returned to Hq1 in Heddernheim, Germany. The 508th PIR was assigned occupation duty as security forces and honor guards for General Eisenhowers headquarters in nearby Frankfurt.

In August 1945, Hill bid an emotional farewell to his comrades and started home. He was separated from the Army in September and joined his family in Southern Indiana. O. B. Hill immediately enrolled in the University of Evansville and graduated in 1950 with a degree in Accounting and Business Management. For the next two years, he worked for the Internal Revenue Service and then entered private industry as an accountant.

O. B. Hill returned to Europe a number of times after the war to revisit the battlefields. After returning from a trip to Normandy in 1975, Hill founded the 508th Parachute infantry association; organizing the first re-union in Chicago over the July 4 weekend.

(Read O.B. Hill's story regarding the founding of the 508th parachute infantry regiment association here: http://www.508pir.org/pdf_files/exec_summary.pdf )

Left: Normandy, France: Two memorial stones erected near the site of the bridge south of Chef du Pont. One dedicated to O.B. Hill and the other dedicated to men of the 508th

Right: The memorial to O.B. Hill.

 

 In January 1979, while working for the Hughes Aircraft Company, in El Secundo, California, O.B. had a severe heart attack and survived his first triple bypass surgery. Prohibited from returning to work, O.B. retired from the Hughes Aircraft Company in 1986 and moved his family to Cathedral City, California. he died on June 10, 2002.


O.B. Hill often said.
My most significant accomplishments were marrying Margaret, raising our
children, and founding the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment Association, WW II,
1942-1945.

 

This 1998 Photo shows Owen Hill standing in front of a street sign in Chef du pont. A street named in his honor.

____________________

Owen B. Hill - Oct 8, 1921 - June 10, 2002

Bronze Star Medal

Purple Heart Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster

Combat Infantry Badge

Invasion Arrowhead

Three battle stars

Parachute Qualification Badge with a star (Normandy jump)

Presidential Unit Citation

 French and Belgian Fourrageres

 Numerous defense medals including Occupation Medal with Germany Bar.

__________________________________________________________________________

Hill's photos and story are profiled in the June 1999 issue of the French collector magazine "Militaria" during the 55th anniversary of the D-day landings