HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – June 6, 1944. That’s the day allied forces invaded northern France to fight the enemy in World War II. On this 77th anniversary, we sat down with one of the soldiers who remembers it well.
Sitting on Virginia Beach looking at ships off the coast, 7-year-old William Bromley Magruder didn’t know a dozen years later, he would cross that same ocean to fight for his country. I met private first-class Bill Magruder at Huntsville’s Redstone Village where he now lives
At 19, he reported to Camp Lee in Virginia. “That’s where my mother and dad left me off on a bus,” he recalled. He then shipped off to Kentucky. “I went to Fort Campbell,” the 96-year-old veteran said, “That’s where we got my basic training and from there, I went overseas.”
Mr. Magruder was assigned to the Army’s 101st Airborne Division. “Made about five jumps,” he said, “I volunteered to be a paratrooper.” His first jump was at night into France on D-Day. He has several carrier pigeons strapped onto his chest. “Of course, when my chute opened, the pigeons went,” he said.
The story gets better. “The carrier pigeons got back to England, but they didn’t have a message except I’m glad to get the hell out of here,” he said laughing.
The Germans were trying to shoot down their plane. The pilot missed the drop zone by 15 miles. “We had to travel at night and the French helped us,” Magruder said. It took them two days to get to division headquarters where he was assigned to be a motorcycle messenger. It was the quickest way to communicate with other units, but it was also dangerous.
On one mission, the enemy shot out his rear tire. “I was traveling at night,” he recalled, “Fortunately, this sniper did not try to find me, and I was able to get back to headquarters.”
There was another close call. “I carried hand grenades in my ammunition box on the front side, the left side of the motorcycle and a pin came out. And that blew the box out,” he said, “I did not get hit. The motorcycle just disappeared.”
Bill Magruder serves in all three major campaigns in Normandy, Holland and in Bastogne. “I rode a motorcycle at night to join the Battle of the Bulge,” he said. He lost some brothers on the battlefield. And while he wasn’t on the front line as a combat soldier, he did his job making sure messages reached their destination.
“It was quite an education to be involved,” he said. He remembered some of those fallen comrades saying, “You’re in an airplane and flying and, all of a sudden, the flak, you could see it and you’d say Oh, let me get out of this plane and I can’t wait.”
He paused for a moment and added, “And some of them didn’t get out. They shot ’em.” France and the U.S. Army recognized Mr. Magruder’s service and bravery. The awards include the bronze star and purple heart.