Walter Chris Heisler
US Army Paratrooper, 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment
82nd Airborne Division
“I was most worried about trying to remember all the things I was supposed to do, with the things I need to be concerned about,” begins Lt. Walter Chris Heisler, one of the US Army Paratroopers of the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment during the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944.
He thought that even though people talked about fear, it was about doing what they’re supposed to be doing and doing it right that mostly concerned the soldiers back then. It was all about being able to protect their men and kill the Germans.
June 5, 1944. The night before D-Day, “Chris” was on his way over to Normandy aboard one of the C47 planes bound for Operation Overlord. He could see planes as far as he could see the red lights. When they finally got over the shore and he looked down below at what he called the “Beach of Wrath', he couldn’t help but exclaim, “What a beautiful beach down there!”
However, in maybe a minute or five before they could get any further, he started seeing machine gun fires arching up on the sky towards the plane he was on. He had a radio man looking out the door with him when the guy put his arm up in front of his face. He slapped the man’s arm down and said, “Get your goddamn hand down your view. It won't stop a bullet. You'll just get blood all over your face.” He thought it showed more the kind of spirit that everybody had during that moment of chaos and uncertainty.
But, they had a job to do. So, he told his men to stand up, hook up, and check equipment.
It wasn’t very long after that that somebody told Chris, “Stout has been hit.” He had been the guy that had refused to jump once back in England. Chris had to take Stoud up by himself and tell him he had to jump without pushing him or he couldn't go with the unit. So, he unhooked and went four men back inside the plane to look at him. He did look hit.
He wondered, “My God, was that a premonition?” He had to make a decision. Should they just maybe throw him out? With less time to talk about it, Chris put him on the bucket seat and laid him down. At that point, somebody yelled at him, “The green light is on.” Now, the boys had stood up and hooked up because the red light had been on earlier. He turned and hollered at the group, “Geronimo, what's going on?” He went out, not remembering anything else until he got to hit the ground.
It was the softest landing he ever had. His feet just barely touched the ground. He was hung up in a tree. And he couldn't get out of his parachute. He jumped up to loosen the straps and unsnap, but to no avail. Finally, he had to jag his knife out and cut the straps to get out.
He saw a house about 50 to a hundred yards away and wondered if there were people in it. He could hear the guns on the shore opening up with a bombardment. Well, he could hear that all the time during that period, from morning, noon, until midnight.
Then, he saw frasers going up and dropping very nearby below. After he got away from there looking for his men, he realized he was all alone. But the only thing that really got him scared was running into cows. Since he avoided the roads, he was sneaking up on cows because he thought they might be some of his men.
He did use the clicker. At first, he never believed in the clickers because he figured it was more harm than good. But he was all alone and he wasn’t where I’m supposed to be. He just followed where the planes were going. If they were going in the direction that they were supposed to be flying on, that should be the direction that he was supposed to be. Starting off in this direction, he traveled all night looking for men but the only thing he can remember about that night was that he got close enough to a gerbil -, not a man - that he had to get down on his elbows to crawl away from where he was.
He was crawling on his elbow when he decided that if daylight came and he couldn't go any further, he'd be killed or captured there. So, he followed the hide on the hedge and as he was going from one hide to another, he heard shooting off about a quarter mile or so. Having a huge tree behind him, he thought of looking over the arc of the hedgerow to see what was going on there. He couldn't see anything so he just tried to sit down.
As he sat down, a German walked right in front of him. He hadn't seen the German nor the German had seen him. Fortunately, he had his gun cocked and when the enemy came out of the tree, Chris just stitched him all the way up with his machine gun.
He recounted, “It was the most difficult period I had in my whole career because I thought he was the point of a squad and I was sitting there expecting any minute to get shot.” He was asking himself, “I wonder if I’ll know when I die, if I’m going to feel my balls or anything.” He was looking all over the field. It was 200 yards to the next hedgerow. He expected to see people but he didn’t, still. He avoided capture for three days, fighting Germans with bullets and hand grenades. Pretty soon he realized he got to get the hell out of there. So, he moved to another hide and it was at that hide that he was captured.
Chris Heisler became a prisoner of war in OFLAG 64 prison camp in Schubin, Poland. It wasn’t a very good condition but not that bad either. At least he was under the command of American officers although they received orders from the Germans. During one of their marches, escape became possible so Heisler served as a negotiator. He would run into nearby farms and beg for food in exchange for cigarettes. Chris was one of about 400 who completed the march and boarded a train to a camp in Parchim, Germany.
“I haven’t talked about it before. It’s hard to live with that every day,” he says, his voice trailing off.