Mesa Musings: A POW's story

Mesa Musings

June 02, 2010|Jim Carnett

Mal Phillips dropped into Normandy in the pre-dawn hours of June 6, 1944 — D-Day.

He was a member of the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment, attached to the 82nd Airborne Division. He later was awarded a Bronze Star.

Phillips served for 36 years as a professor at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa. Now 86, he lives in retirement in Tustin.


A day after parachuting into wartime France, he and seven other troopers were ambushed and captured by Germans after a 30-minute firefight. A prisoner of war for 11 months, he was ultimately assigned to a forced-labor camp in eastern Germany and was sent on a 900-mile forced march during the war's final two months.

Raised in Glendale, Phillips was drafted in 1943 at age 19. He elected to go airborne, and was assigned to jump school at Ft. Benning, Ga. The 507th embarked for the British Isles later that year.

With a host of other American, British and Canadian units, the 507th took part in the invasion of "Fortress Europe." On June 4, 1944, Phillips and his comrades were advised that they'd be leaving their English base the next morning for France.

"We were given material to blacken our faces and were told to ready our equipment," he said. "The adrenaline was pumping, and we were in a state of high anticipation."

Heavy casualties were expected.

"I've since read that Gen. Eisenhower agonized long and hard about dropping paratroopers into Normandy," Phillips said. "He felt there were good tactical reasons for doing so, but also believed the potential for a horrendous slaughter was great."

Casualties were high, but not as high as anticipated.

At 10 p.m. June 4, the invasion was scrubbed for 24 hours due to inclement weather. Pfc. Phillips and his fellow troopers made their way back to the hangar. After stowing his gear, he fell asleep on his cot.

"I'd been granted a reprieve and was ready for some sack time," Phillips said.

By the next afternoon it was clear the invasion was on. That night, burdened with nearly a hundred pounds of gear, each 507th paratrooper climbed aboard his appointed C-47 transport plane.

Two airborne divisions (the 82nd and 101st) — a total of 13,000 men — jumped into Normandy early the next morning.

Phillips jumped from an altitude of 400 feet and landed in a small field surrounded by a hedgerow. H Company, Phillips' unit, was dispersed over a broad area.

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