Remembering Op. Market Garden From a C-130 Cockpit
Posted by Thomas McGuire on
This year we commemorated the 77th anniversary of Operation Market Garden in a pretty unique way — 1250 feet above ground in the cockpit of a C-130, out of which jumped paratroopers from 9 NATO-allied countries onto DZ Yankee, the original 1944 drop zone in Eindhoven, Netherlands. We captured this event as well as the history of Operation Market Garden in some of our recent posts on social media which we’ve compiled below.
17 SEP ’21: Today our Air Force brother Kane dropped paratroopers from his C-130 over the Netherlands in honor of the 77th anniversary of Operation Market Garden. We caught up with him about the experience earlier today. Here’s what he said:
“It’s been an incredible week in Eindhoven, Netherlands! I’ve been planning this exercise for quite a while, but I haven’t felt like I’ve really taken the time to step back and see the significance of it until today. The 37th Airlift Squadron took part this week in Falcon Leap, a multi-nation interoperability exercise involving personnel from 9 NATO countries, designed to build our partnership capabilities to execute complex missions together. The training culminated yesterday with the 77th anniversary of Market Garden, where we flew a 7 ship of aircraft from four counties to drop over 300 paratroopers from 10 countries on the original drop zone, DZ Yankee, where the Operation took place from 17-24 September 1944 — the largest airborne operation of all time. It was an incredible experience to commemorate such a significant and tragic event in American history.”
20 SEP ’44 — Nijmegen, Netherlands is in flames and the Battle of Arnhem is well underway. Just days earlier, American and British paratroopers had embarked on the largest Airborne operation in history — Operation Market Garden. Buoyed by the success of hard-fought battles in France and Belgium earlier that summer, the Allies now hope to wrest the Netherlands from Nazi control.
The British 1st ABN DIV, isolated to the north at Arnhem bridge, needs reinforcements — and quickly. The 82nd Airborne Division — located 15 miles to the south in Nijmegen — needs to fight through the pandemonium of this now-burning city to punch through German lines and reach the British. Doing so requires the seizing of Nijmegen’s bridges from the Nazis. After hard-won lessons from days earlier, the Allies determine that seizing these bridges will require a simultaneous assault from both sides. A battalion needs to outflank the Nazis by way of crossing the Waal River in boats — rafts more accurately — and surprise the enemy with an attack on the opposite shore.
The 3rd BN, 504th PIR answers the call with haste — and without the cover of darkness. In what the GI’s later dubbed “Hell’s Highway,” paratrooper after paratrooper and boat after boat falls to the withering gunfire of the Nazi’s fixed fighting positions on the opposite bank. Most boats aren’t even outfitted with proper oars, so many paratroopers attempt rowing with the butts of their rifles. Of the 260 American paratroopers rowing in this near-suicide mission, half would be killed or wounded. 26 boats filled with American paratroopers would leave the bank. Only 11 would make it to the far shore.
Today in Nijmegen, the Legend of the American paratrooper lives on. The city remembers his sacrifice with the Waal Memorial and a new bridge named “the Crossing” commemorating his valiant assault. Beyond these monuments, I’ve experienced the kindness of the city’s inhabitants first-hand. They’re quick to greet you — the American — with a smile and a handshake. To them the memory of a city liberated from Nazi control by American paratroopers remains constant — passed from generation to generation. They’re living proof that Legends Never Die.
21 SEP ’44: Although PVT John Towle lived to see the other side of the Waal River, he’d soon give his life to save those of his fellow paratroopers just hours later. In what can only be described as truly All-American Heroics, he engaged the enemy single-handedly with no regard for personal safety, ultimately resulting in his own death — for which he'd later be awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously. As brothers, we’ve read a ton of these citations, and *very* few have the words “rocket launcher” written three times. But see for yourself:
“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty on 21 September 1944, near Oosterhout, Holland. The rifle company in which PVT Towle served as rocket launcher gunner was occupying a defensive position in the west sector of the recently established Nijmegen bridgehead when a strong enemy force of approximately 100 infantry supported by 2 tanks and a half-track formed for a counterattack.
With full knowledge of the disastrous consequences resulting not only to his company but to the entire bridgehead by an enemy breakthrough, PVT Towle immediately and without orders left his foxhole and moved 200 yards in the face of intense small-arms fire to a position on an exposed dike roadbed.
From this precarious position PVT Towle fired his rocket launcher at and hit both tanks to his immediate front. Armored skirting on both tanks prevented penetration by the projectiles, but both vehicles withdrew slightly damaged.
Still under intense fire and fully exposed to the enemy, PVT Towle then engaged a nearby house which 9 Germans had entered and were using as a strongpoint and with 1 round killed all 9. Hurriedly replenishing his supply of ammunition, PVT Towle, motivated only by his high conception of duty which called for the destruction of the enemy at any cost, then rushed approximately 125 yards through grazing enemy fire to an exposed position from which he could engage the enemy half-track with his rocket launcher.
While in a kneeling position preparatory to firing on the enemy vehicle, PVT Towle was mortally wounded by a mortar shell. By his heroic tenacity, at the price of his life, PVT Towle saved the lives of many of his comrades and was directly instrumental in breaking up the enemy counterattack.”
Rest in power to Towle. For his tenacity. And, ultimately, his sacrifice.
77 years later, we still remember. Join us in saluting the brave souls of Operation Market Garden. Despite the tragedies of the battle, their legend lives on. Because Legends Never Die.