Becomming a Paratrooper

Stateside Service

The Mediterranean

Southern France

The Battle of the Bulge

Hospital Stay and Postwar Berlin

Jump Into France

After the War

Reflections

Train Ride Through Italy

Annotation

Richard J. Field was born and raised in Upstate New York in the small town of Liberty. He lived on the outskirts of town and did a lot of hunting and other outdoor activities. This helped him a lot during his military career. His parents split up but never divorced when he was eight or ten years old. He had two brothers and a sister. His brothers are deceased now but his sister is still alive. He has not been back to his home town in 50 years. Field lived with his father in New York City. He met his future wife when he was 12 and they grew up together and eventually got married. They had been married for 63 years when she died in January 2008. He has two children, a daughter and a son. His son did 20 years in the Navy but died of a brain tumor a few years prior to this interview. After leaving school, Field worked in construction until he was drafted in May 1943. He was in school when Pearl Harbor was attacked. Most people did not even know where Pearl Harbor was. The induction officers were in Binghamton, New York, about 80 miles north of Liberty. Field reported to Camp Upton and was given his uniforms. He was then sent to Camp Wheeler, Georgia where he went through basic training. Basic training was tough on a lot of the guys. Field credits his youth spent outdoors with helping him get through it. Near the end of basic training, an airborne captain visited and Field was impressed by how he looked. What really sold Field on the airborne, however, was the extra pay. After basic was completed, Field was sent to Fort Benning, Georgia. The men slept adjacent to the airport so they could see the planes taking off and the men parachuting out. While they were waiting for class to begin it became clear to Field that they would try anything to get the recruits to quit. Minor infractions were treated harshly. The dropout rate was about 50 percent. The second week they jumped off of 32 foot towers to teach them how to tumble. They landed on sawdust and if they coughed or spit they were ordered to do pushups. The third week they continued with tumbling training. They also learned how to collapse a parachute if the wind took it. Then they jumped from 250 foot towers. They also learned how to pack the parachute. Their fourth week was mostly spent between jumping out of planes and packing their parachutes for the next day’s jump. After five jumps, including one night jump, the trainees got their wings. The commanding officers instilled in the men of the airborne the staunch belief that they were better than everyone else and by the end of training the men believed it. To Field, the only main difference is that the parachute infantryman just gets to the battle a little quicker. Field looked forward to his jumps. He was curious and did not know what to expect. His second jump was frightening but the rest were not bad. The proper exit was with elbows pulled in tight and feet first out of the airplane because a headfirst exit could cause injury when the chute opened. On his first jump Field looked down below his feet and saw the red cross of an ambulance below him. He thought that might have been a bad omen at first. There were many sprained ankles after the first jump. The men always had to make sure they landed facing downwind in order to not hurt themselves. Some men landed in a nearby river. Phoenix City, Alabama was nearby and there were many bars and prostitutes in the town. At the end of five weeks they gave the men their boots and pinned their wings on them. Field was proud that day and he still has that stuff. From there they were sent to Camp Mackall, North Carolina. There, he joined the 551st [Annotator's Note: 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion].

Annotation

[Annotator's Note: Richard Field served in the Army as a paratrooper with the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion, then later with the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division and took part in combat operations near Rome, in Southern France, the Battle of the Bulge and the assault into Germany.] Camp Mackall was purely airborne. Some of the facility was returned to the State [Annotator's Note: North Carolina] after the war but the runways are still there. The Green Berets trained there. Field joined the unit [Annotator's Note: the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion] just after it returned from Panama. These men were concerned about Nazi influence in the French colony of Martinique. The 517th [Annotator's Note: 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment] was training in Panama to jump into Martinique if the Germans tried to take the island. The unit was small and they were more like a family than most parachute units. Later, the regiment was folded into the 82nd Airborne. Field remembers the people in the 551st better than the people he met in the 82nd. Field was in Company B. The battalion commander was Colonel Joerg [Annotator's Note: Colonel Wood Joerg]. The company sergeant was named Thornton and the company commander was Captain Evans. They are all dead now. Colonel Joerg was killed during the Battle of the Bulge. They did a lot of work disassembling and reassembling their guns as well as many forced marches to get in shape. They would bivouac out in the woods at night. They were taught to read compasses and maps. They jumped out of CG-4 gliders. Secretary of War Henry Stimson came and watched the men jump out of the gliders. They were being tested for possible use as a jumping off platform for paratroopers but nothing ever came of it. They were cumbersome and crowded. The gliders were so poorly built that when people jumped, it often ripped part of the static line off the wall. They fell further out of the glider because there was no prop wash to lift them up. They did five jumps from the gliders before they scrapped the project. Field and another guy from New York City named Johnny Castellani got three days' liberty. They went to the airport and picked up parachutes and reserves. The only flight going north was to West Virginia and they, knowing little of geography, agreed to take that one. They wound up further from New York City than when they had started. They had ten dollars between them so they went to the Red Cross and borrowed some money then took a train to New York. They only had time to say hello to their folks before they had to leave. They were late getting back and were declared AWOL [Annotator's Note: absent without leave] for about six hours. Field was confined to quarters for being late. Field saw his girlfriend in New York but they decided to wait until he got back before they got married. After returning to Camp Mackall he wrote her a letter telling her that he might not come back and that she should come down to the camp. She did and Field got Captain Evans to release him from quarters. They went down to Bennettsville, South Carolina and got married. About two weeks later the battalion was sent to Newport News, Virginia to be shipped overseas.

Annotation

Richard Field was overseas for about 21 months. His son was born nine months after he returned. They sailed out in a big convoy. They went through the Straits of Gibraltar during daylight. A few ships were attacked. They landed in Africa and they had some marches after they arrived. There was a horde of locusts in the area. They saw the natives trying to beat the locusts with sticks to get them off the crops. They arrived in Oran, Algeria near the end of April 1944. From there they got on a British ship to go to Naples. The ship smelled of mutton. There were no bunks, everyone slept on hammocks. In Naples they got on boxcars, with no toilet facilities or water, and went down the toe of Italy. There was a ferry that had tracks on it and the boxcar rolled right onto the ferry. Sicily is very mountainous and they had a lot of training there. They had a tent city called Camp Weight. Field fell into a ravine and messed up his knee. They spent a month or so in Sicily then got back on the train cars and headed for Rome. There was only one track so they frequently had to pull off to the side at various points to let other trains pass them. They occasionally had to wait for hours for the other train to pass them. They frequently used that time to swim in the sea. One time, while waiting for a train to pass, they were right next to a fig orchard. Figs are quite rich in fiber and the men gorging on them caused some difficulties on the way to Rome. When they arrived in Rome they were billeted in an old naval academy. They were able to get evening passes to go to Rome. Field saw many of the sights in Rome and the Vatican.

Annotation

[Annotator's Note: Richard Field served in the Army as a paratrooper with the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion, then later with the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division and took part in combat operations near Rome, in Southern France, the Battle of the Bulge and the assault into Germany.] During the first week of August they went up to the roof of the building. The men had their jump suits on and a box on their head. The officers had a flip gun loaded with several colors of paint and they sprayed the men’s uniform. On 14 August [Annotator's Note: 14 August 1944] they were given maps of the area they were headed for and, the following day, they loaded up and flew out to southern France. They jumped into Southern France in the late afternoon of 15 August. Their primary mission was to clear the area of enemies so the gliders could land. Field missed the drop zone and landed in a grape vineyard. He cut a pannel out of his parachute. The men noticed the women of the village gathering the parachutes but did not know why. Eventually someone told them that they were using them as materials to make clothing. Field kept cutting off pieces of his parachute until he only had a small swath left. Later, after they liberated Nice, Field had a French woman embroider his wife's initials on the piece. He still has it. The gliders came in and it was mayhem. The gliders frequently carried jeeps or artillery pieces. If the glider hit anything while landing the cargo would frequently kill the pilot. The next day they attacked the city of Draguignan. There was a German corps headquarters in the city. They took Draguignan and captured a German general. Draguignan was important because they controlled the gun emplacements on the beaches of Southern France. From there they headed towards Cannes in the French Riviera. They had to move through the rugged country of the French Alps when they came under heavy artillery attack. About 20 men were killed in one night. They called in a naval shore bombardment on the German guns that were firing on them. The next morning they had to retrieve their dead. Field still has dreams about that. About six months prior [Annotator's Note: prior to this interview], Field got an email from a French medical student doing research on that area, called Hill 105. Field gave the student advice on where to look and he eventually found shrapnel from the battle that Field survived. They encountered very little resistance in Cannes. Then they moved to the Var River but the Germans had already blown the bridge across it. They crossed the river on girders and other things and made their way into Nice. They did not encounter much resistance because the Germans were falling back. They went up into the Maritime Alps and were billeted in several small villages. They frequently crossed into Italy. They had observation posts on top of the mountains and had to use mules to get supplies. They stayed there until mid November. They went up north for R&R [Annotator's Note: rest and recuperation] in the city of Laon, near Belgium.

Annotation

[Annotator's Note: Richard Field served in the Army as a paratrooper with the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion, then later with the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division and took part in combat operations near Rome, in Southern France, the Battle of the Bulge and the assault into Germany.] They were getting ready to have a Christmas party when the Battle of the Bulge began on 16 December [Annotator's Note: 16 December 1944]. They still had their summer uniforms when they went into battle. It was around zero degrees and the snow was calf deep. The cold was a bigger enemy than the Germans. Anyone wanting to sleep had to have somebody watching them because if they did not, they would likely freeze to death. The battalion [Annotator's Note: the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion] was attached to the 82nd Airborne during this time. There were about 825 men there. There were a bunch of small towns in the area but the area was heavily forested. The towns in the area were big producers in the furniture business. They attacked several small villages during the battle. The forested areas gave them a lot of cover. One attack, however, was on the farming village of Rochelinval with no cover at all. It took them four days to take the town. When the battle ended, of the 825 men who went into the fight, 110 were left. Field froze his feet and was sent to England to recuperate. Because there were so few people left after the battle, the Army simply deactivated the unit [Annotator's Note: the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion]. When he returned from the hospital, Field was folded into the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Field only learned that his feet were frozen when another man in the battalion was wounded during the attack on Rochelinval. The other guy was higher up than Field and, when a mortar shell hit nearby, the shrapnel flew over Field and hit the other man in the face. Field took him to an aid station. They had to cross an open area, dodging small arms fire. Once they reached the aid station Field took the wounded man inside and he stood in front of a potbelly stove, feeling the first warmth in four days. He tried to get his shoes and socks off to get them dry before he went back outside and found ice crystals between his toes. He saw his toes starting to turn black and a doctor came over to have a look at them. They evacuated him to Liege, Belgium and then to a place outside Oxford, England. He did not see the Indian man, whose name was Marshall Clay, again. Years later, while at a reunion, Field was speaking to another man who told him that he had a contact in the VA [Annotator's Note: Veterans Administration] who could find out information about any veteran he was trying to find. Field asked them to look for a Marshall Clay from Arizona and eventually he heard back that they had found one living on a Navajo Reservation in Arizona. They gave Field some pictures and the man's PO Box number. Field sent the pictures to the man asking him if he was the same Marshall Clay who had been wounded in the Ardennes. It was the same person and they started corresponding. A few months later there was a reunion in San Diego and Field asked Clay to come. He did with five members of his family. Clay did not know what had happened to him and Field filled in the blanks. Clay died a couple of years ago. Field was the first person Clay's daughter called after he died. Field was essentially dragging Clay to the aid station.

Annotation

[Annotator's Note: Richard Field served in the Army as a paratrooper with the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion, then later with the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division and took part in combat operations near Rome, in Southern France, the Battle of the Bulge and the assault into Germany.] There was not much they could do with frostbite. They put cotton between toes to prevent gangrene. They confined Field to bed for three days and would not let him sit up. They tried to make him use a bedpan. Field was not having that and one morning, around two o'clock, he climbed out of bed and crawled to the bathroom a short distance away. A nurse caught him and got him a wheelchair. The frostbite destroyed a lot of capillaries in his feet and eventually made him move from his home in upstate New York to California because the snow made his feet hurt. Field experienced incredible pain as his feet thawed out but eventually it subsided. He attributes the saving of his feet to Marshall Clay. After about a month he started running and drilling. Eventually, Field was sent back to France and joined the 505th [Annotator's Note: 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division]. They then fought through Germany and crossed the Elbe River and met up with Soviet troops on the other side. From there, they went into Berlin. Berlin was divided into four sectors. The 82nd Airborne was the military presence in the American sector. They stood on street corners with white gloves and empty rifles. They started getting replacements in and Field found many of these men to be unbearable. He thinks the new officers and NCOs [Annotator's Note: noncommissioned officers] felt guilty about missing out on combat and that made them hardliners. Field asked his commander to transfer him somewhere else and Field got a title and opened up a beer hall. They had volleyball nets and horseshoe pits. It was on the edge of Berlin. They could travel through different sectors. Eventually, Field had enough points to go home. He was sent to Camp Lucky Strike in France then took a train to Marseilles and from there got on a ship, crossed the Atlantic and landed at Boston. Field went to Camp Miles Standish where he was discharged on 26 December 1945. Field went home, started a family and went to work.

Annotation

[Annotator's Note: Richard Field served in the Army as a paratrooper with the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion, then later with the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division and took part in combat operations near Rome, in Southern France, the Battle of the Bulge and the assault into Germany.] There was not a great deal of resistance during the flight [Annotator's Note: to Southern France in the early hours of 15 August 1944] but they did run into some flak as they flew over the shore. Field credits good intelligence work with picking a location the Germans did not expect. They landed on a big estate. Field visited it again years later. He and his former squad leader, Joe Kilgore, were taking pictures when an old lady came over and spoke to their guide. The old lady then turned to Field and Kilgore and took them on a tour of the property. She pointed to where they landed. This woman was 23 years old in 1944 and she watched with her parents as men came falling from the sky. This woman died a few months prior to this interview. They ran into a lot of resistance at Draguignan. One of Field's least favorite memories is the morning after they were shelled on Hill 105. They had to go and retrieve their dead. There was a guy named Bill Gates who was standing pretty close to Field when a shell hit close by. The blast took Gates' head off and Field was splattered with gore. Field will never forget that. They did not have body bags so they had to put the bodies in shelter halves. The shelling gave Field a feeling of helplessness. There was very little cover. They found a dry stream bed and that provided a little cover. Field's equipment ranged from 75 to 100 pounds. Equipment chutes were white and that made them easier to spot on the ground. Field had several days of K rations. He was not impressed by the quality of K rations. When they jumped into France their uniforms were not reinforced like they are now.

Annotation

Richard Field and the other men of 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion had to buy scarves and jackets from the armored guys. Their jump boots were worthless in the snow. When Field joined the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment he was in Company B. The 551st was scattered around the division [Annotator's Note: the 82nd Airborne Division]. Field was able to stay in contact with a few guys from the 551st who were also sent to the 505th. They were accepted into the 505th because they were not simple replacements. The only difficulty Field had was just dealing with the size of the regiment. There were thousands of guys in it. In Berlin, the four countries had a track meet and the 82nd was well represented. Field never fully got used to the sheer size of the 505th. He was discharged as a PFC. Field had no desire to seek promotion, he was just a kid. He was 19 when he jumped into France. At Camp Myles Standish, an officer was trying to convince the men being discharged to sign on again. Field had been training for so long that by the time he reached Rome he was raring to go. He was not scared during the jump. He was scared during combat but his training allowed him to put his fear on the back burner and allowed him to do his job. It took many years before Field was able to talk about the war. His wife and kids knew that he had been a paratrooper and that he had been in Europe but nothing else for many years. In 1952 Field was working for an automobile agency in Trenton, New Jersey. He was a line mechanic and he became friends with the man who worked next to him whose name was Howard Adcock. Field worked with Adcock for two years before leaving to take another job. Many years later, while reading a book called The Left Corner of My Heart by Dan Morgan, Field found a picture of Howard Adcock. Howard Adcock was in Company A, 551st PIB and yet they never crossed paths and did not know each other during the war. Field went on the internet and learned that Adcock had died but he spoke with his son. After moving to the West Coast, Field worked for Bob Baker, a prominent West Coast car dealer. There, he met a woman named Susie Schroeder. She was a district saleswoman for the company. They met playing golf with the general manager and became friends. Schroeder was later transferred to Colorado and Field lost track of her. Several years later, during a reunion in San Diego, Field and his wife saw Schroeder at the banquet and they got to talking and Field discovered that Susie was the daughter of Field's platoon commander Bud Schroeder. She had never mentioned it and Field had no idea. Field does not remember any of his immediate superiors in the 505th.

Annotation

The war changed Richard Field. Field was used to being away from home but nothing prepared him for combat. After he returned, he understood the importance of family. Field believes that the war made him an adult. He remembers that in the lead up to Stimson's [Annotator's Note: Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson] visit, the battalion had to pack their own parachutes. A guy named Scoville had a date in a nearby town around that time. The nylon parachutes were very slick and everyone had to use things called shot bags that were full of BBs to pack their parachute. Scoville got frustrated and just shoved the parachute in the bag, claiming that he had a reserve chute anyway. He jumped the next day and it opened. Field remembers the friendships that he made. He was only in the service for three years but the friendships have lasted a lifetime. One man that he is going to visit soon was a sergeant when Field met him but retired as a colonel. Field has also become close with some of the veterans' widows. He feels more kinship with the veterans and their wives than he does with the friends he had growing up. While Field was working for Bob Baker he discovered a column about the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion. He used this to reestablish contact with some of the men from his unit. The first reunion Field went to was in Pennsylvania around 1980. He has gone to every reunion since except for one in Las Vegas. Field was in Germany when he heard that FDR [Annotator's Note: President Franklin D. Roosevelt] had died. The reports of the Malmedy Massacre spread through the camp like wildfire. Field did not have much malice for the average German grunt but he hated the officers and the SS. Field once ran across some SS armored units during the Battle of the Bulge. Field believes that it is important that people continue to study World War 2. He thinks that it is important that museums like The National WWII Museum exists. He thinks that museums and living history classes are much better than textbooks for teaching students about the past. Field would do it all again if he had to. Field kept his boots so clean he could use them as a mirror to shave. Field concludes the interview by showing off some of his relics from the war.

All oral histories featured on this site are available to license. The videos will be delivered via mail as Hi Definition video on DVD/DVDs or via file transfer. You may receive the oral history in its entirety but will be free to use only the specific clips that you requested. Please contact the Museum at digitalcollections@nationalww2museum.org if you are interested in licensing this content. Please allow up to four weeks for file delivery or delivery of the DVD to your postal address.