Prewar Life to Jump School

Overseas to Ireland

Preparing for D-Day

Parachuting into France

Working for General Brereton

Between France and Holland

Holland and a Reunion

Operation Market Garden

Battle of the Bulge

Segment stub for 94720

Returning Home

Service Experiences

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Thomas J. Blakey was born in Nacogdoches, Texas in 1920. [Annotator's Note: An interviewer asks Blakey where he was when he found out about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on 7 December 1941.] Blakey was at a picnic in Houston [Annotator's Note: Houston, Texas]. [Annotator's Note: An interviewer asks Blakey what he thought about Pearl Harbor.] Nobody knew where it was. A friend had a father in the Marine Corps at Pearl Harbor. Blakey and his friends were upset and went out the next day to join the service. There was not enough room for them. Life magazine [Annotator's Note: an American general-interest magazine known for the quality of its photography; 1883 to 2007] did a spread in the middle of summer 1941 on the new Army Airborne. Blakey and a friend read it. They knew they would be drafted and when they did that is what they wanted. He entered in early 1942 at Fort Sam Houston, Texas [Annotator's Note: in San Antonio, Texas]. He took basic training at Camp Wolters in Mineral Wells, Texas. The water you drink in the summertime is boiling. Training was intense for three months and 30 mile marches were common. They had weapons training, calisthenics, and map reading. He then went to Fort Benning, Georgia. He stayed there until he went overseas in 1943. His jump training was very good. It was his second or third jump before he realized what he was doing. There is nothing in the world like it [Annotator's Note: he means parachuting]. His first 11 times in an airplane, he jumped out. They jumped out of C-47s [Annotator's Note: Douglas C-47 Skytrain cargo aircraft].

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At Fort Benning, Georgia, Thomas J. Blakey went through communications school after he qualified [Annotator's Note: as a paratrooper]. He stayed as an instructor for a while. The wash out rate was not high, and he never saw anyone wash out. He stayed there until early Fall of 1943. They formed the 82nd Division [Annotator's Note: 82nd Airborne Division] and the whole thing went overseas to North Ireland on 9 December 1943. There, they trained every day. The Irish people were very cordial, and he liked the northern islands. The southern islands were Nazi sympathizers. It got cold that winter of 1943 to 1944. They went to Nottingham, England where it was extremely cold. They knew that somebody was going to invade the continent and they were going to be part of it. As far as the scuttlebutt [Annotator's Note: a period slang term for a rumor] went, they were going a new place every day. He was assigned to the 82nd after the invasion of Normandy [Annotator's Note: D-Day; the Allied invasion of Normandy, France on 6 June 1944]. He was assigned to the Headquarters Company, 2nd Airborne Brigade when he went overseas. The 2nd Airborne brought the 507th [Annotator's Note: 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment] and the 508th [Annotator's Note: 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment] overseas. After Normandy, it was disbanded.

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[Annotator's Note: An interviewer asks Thomas J. Blakey to tell him what it was like a few days before D-Day; the Allied invasion of Normandy, France on 6 June 1944.] He says he is speaking about his memories from 62 years. They were at an airport named Saltby [Annotator's Note: Royal Air Force Saltby, Saltby, Leicestershire, England] five or six days before going in. They [Annotator's Note: 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division] had guards with machine guns. There was no way in and no way out and it rained constantly. They did indoor work with maps and sand tables [Annotator's Note: constrained sand for making terrain models for military planning]. Everybody learned where they would be when they landed. Unfortunately, when they landed, they were not where they were supposed to be. [Annotator's Note: Blakey laughs.] They made it work. Blakey was not jump master, but he could see outside of the plane. It was one of the most magnificent things in the world. He wondered how they could lose. They flew over that fleet for quite a while. The pilot told them to look down and it was ship after ship after ship. It was very inspirational. There was no contingency plan. They were there one way or another. Eisenhower [Annotator's Note: General of the Army Dwight David "Ike" Eisenhower, Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force; 34th President of the United States] told them that. They were supposed to go the night of the 4th [Annotator's Note: 4 June 1944] but weather postponed it one night [Annotator's Note: 5 June 1944]. They were hopped up to go [Annotator's Note: the first night] and then it was postponed. The next night was different. They no longer had the gaiety and enthusiasm they had the night before. They were more solemn. It had nothing to do with going into combat. They were fearful for another delay. They were well-trained. They were not soldiers; they were assassins put there to kill Germans. And they did. There were two ways home, a bad wound or a trip through France and Germany.

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There were 18 or 19 men on Thomas J. Blakey's plane [Annotator's Note: from the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division for D-Day; the Allied invasion of Normandy, France on 6 June 1944]. There was a lot of antiaircraft fire and a lot of fog. His pilot explained to him 20 years ago what the problems were getting the men in there. He had 23 minutes to get them on the ground in a certain spot. He went through a fog bank, causing the planes to disperse. When they came out of the fog, everybody was shooting at them and a lot of the time was gone. He could not take them back to England and he picked the place he could get rid of them. He was as blind as the troops were as to where they were dropped. Blakey's problem was finding out where they were. They were at Saint Marcouf [Annotator's Note: Saint Marcouf, Manche, France], south and west of Saint-Mere-Eglise [Annotator's Note: Sainte-Mère-Église, France]. He could hear ground fire but could not find anybody. He found a place to sit down and waited for daylight. He found men from the 507th [Annotator's Note: 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 17th Airborne Division] and started to accumulate. It was a scattered deal. They made it work and they became a one man Army. If there were two of them, it was a two man Army. They got involved in a machine gun fight at Saint Marcouf and lost two men. They found a sign to Saint-Mere-Eglise and then went to the La Fière Bridge [Annotator's Note: La Fière causeway in Saint-Mere-Eglise]. It took four to six hours because they were avoiding German patrols. It was more important to make it to the bridge than kill Germans along the way. None of Blakey's unit ever made it to the bridge but there were battles going on. [Annotator's Note: An interviewer asks Blakey if he was part of taking the manor near the bridgehead at La Fière from the Germans.] He was down on the end of the causeway in a foxhole to protect that end. [Annotator's Note: An interviewer asks Blakey if he was there when the German tanks came.] That will put the fear of God in anybody. There were two bazooka [Annotator's Note: man-portable recoilless anti-tank weapon] teams in front, and they knocked out the tanks. They were Renault tanks [Annotator's Note: French Army Renault R35 light tanks] that had been taken from the French. They shot the Germans when they came out of them. Captain Rae [Annotator's Note: Army Captain Robert D. Rae] led the charge across the causeway. When they got to the upper end, there were two machine guns they had to take. A lot of the guys got on the side of the causeway and could not move. General Ridgway [Annotator's Note: US Army General Matthew Bunker Ridgway] got out in the middle of the firing to get the men moving. Their casualties were heavy. It was a fierce battle. General S.L.A. Marshall [Annotator's Note: US Army Brigadier General Samuel Lyman Atwood Marshall, known as Slam; military journalist and historian] called it the biggest small battle of World War 2. There were a lot of Germans killed there. They got a white flag from the Germans asking to pick up their wounded. The Americans let them, and it took them two hours. They took out the gun and that gave them a beachhead. They moved out after several hours to towards Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte [Annotator's Note: Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte, France]. They took that several days later and cut the peninsula to keep the Germans from reinforcing Cherbourg [Annotator's Note: Cherbourg, France].

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[Annotator's Note: An interviewer asks Thomas J. Blakey if he is familiar with US Army Lieutenant General Lewis Hyde Brereton.] Blakey worked for him for eight months and it was a magnificent experience. Brereton had graduated from Annapolis [Annotator's Note: United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland] in 1911. He wanted to fly so he transferred into the Army Signal Corps. He flew in World War 1. He commanded the air at Hickam Field [Annotator's Note: in Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Hawaii] when the Japanese struck there [Annotator's Note: the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on 7 December 1941]. He formed an Air Force in India and then one in the Middle East. He moved to England and started the 9th Air Force. Blakey was part of his staff in July 1944. The Army had four Airborne Divisions in England; the British 1st [Annotator's Note: 1st Airborne Division, British Army] and 6th [Annotator's Note: 6th Airborne Division, British Army], and the Army's 82nd [Annotator's Note: 82nd Airborne Division] and 101st [Annotator's Note: 101st Airborne Division]. The 17th [Annotator's Note: 17th Airborne Division] was to land, and the 13th [Annotator's Note: 13th Airborne Division] were coming. They had no head [Annotator's Note: commander] for them. Since Brereton knew the troop carriers, they made him the Commander of the 1st Allied Airborne Army. He surrounded himself with paratroopers. Blakey and Jim Frazier [Annotator's Note: phonetic spelling; unable to identify further] got on the staff that way. Blakey got to see the war from another view. This was during the Bulge [Annotator's Note: Battle of the Bulge or German Ardennes Counter Offensive, 16 December 1944 to 25 January 1945]. They had been in Normandy [Annotator's Note: Normandy, France] for 30 or so days. They were put in a three day reserve and were given a bunch of booze before going back to England. They were cut up badly and lost a lot of men and equipment. They knew the war was going in their favor by now. If Hitler [Annotator's Note: German dictator Adolf Hitler] had turned over the tanks at Pas-de-Calais [Annotator's Note: Pas-de-Calais, France] to Rommel [Annotator's Note: German Army Generalfeldmarschall, or Field Marshal, Johannes Erwin Eugen Rommel], Blakey does not know whether they could have stayed or not.

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The Germans were good soldiers, well-trained, had good equipment, and did not want the Americans there. Thomas J. Blakey took some prisoners [Annotator's Note: as part of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division]. He was walking by a group and was reaching for a cigarette. A voice asked if he could have one. Blakey looked over and it was a German speaking beautiful English. He gave him one and asked where he had learned to speak English. The soldier said "Detroit" [Annotator's Note: Detroit, Michigan]. His mother and father had emigrated to the United States. His grandparents were in Germany. He went to visit them to see how they were and got conscripted while there. Blakey got a seven day furlough [Annotator's Note: an authorized absence for a short period of time] after Normandy [Annotator's Note: D-Day; the Allied invasion of Normandy, France on 6 June 1944]. The other guys were going to places with plenty of soldiers. Blakey and Barney Major [Annotator's Note: Army Technical Sergeant Barney Major] wanted to go somewhere they would not see a soldier. They had a lot of money and went to the British railroad station. A British woman told them to go to Bowness-on-Windermere [Annotator's Note: in South Lakeland, Cumbria, England]. They got there after daylight and walked down to the lake. There was a little island, and they took a little boat out to it. They came back and went to an inn where they had a room for the first time in a long time. They had breakfast. They stayed a good bit past their furlough. He has been back to England but not back to that place. He has been to Normandy 11 times. They returned to training for what was next. It was intense as it always was. They were at Nottingham [Annotator's Note: Nottingham, England] preparing for what turned out to be Holland [Annotator's Note: Operation Market Garden, Netherlands, 17 to 25 September 1944].

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[Annotator's Note: An interviewer asks Thomas J. Blakey what he knew prior to jumping into Holland for Operation Market Garden, Netherlands, 17 to 25 September 1944.] Bridges were the primary aim of his outfit [Annotator's Note: 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division]. They did not say why. They knew the British were coming up from the south. The 101st [Annotator's Note: 101st Airborne Division] was at a little town called Eindhoven [Annotator's Note: Eindhoven, Netherlands] and they were to take bridges there. There was a highway going through Holland to Arnhem [Annotator's Note: Arnhem, Netherlands]. Blakey was at the sand tables [Annotator's Note: small scale map for military planning and training] at Nottingham [Annotator's Note: Nottingham, England] and saw that the British were supposed to take all of that. He knew they could not do it and it was going to be a big mess. When they got beyond Eindhoven, they were in the open where the Germans could shoot them. To Blakey, it was a losing proposition to start with, and it cost them a lot of men. They [Annotator's Note: Blakey and the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division] jumped in daylight and took ground fire on the jump. There is an old saying about paratroopers that "you cannot call yourself a parachutist until you have jumped at night carrying over 100 pounds of equipment while being shot at." That was the deal. They jumped in the afternoon of a beautiful Sunday [Annotator's Note: 17 September 1944]. It was a gorgeous Fall day. They assembled and took off for the bridges. Jack Sullivan [Annotator's Note: John F. "Jack" Sullivan] and Blakey were downstairs taking tickets one day [Annotator's Note: at The National WWII Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana] and tall man came in who was in his late 60s to 70s. Sullivan and Blakey were talking to him and thanking him for coming to the museum. Blakey said he thought he was Dutch, and they asked him back over. He was from Nijmegen [Annotator's Note: Nijmegen, Netherlands]. Blakey told him he had jumped into Nijmegen and the man said he had seen him. He and his family heard the planes and watched the Divisions jump. That exchange and meeting was one of the most emotional experiences for Blakey and the man.

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The resistance in Holland was different than France, but to Thomas J. Blakey, it was not much different. They met SS [Annotator's Note: Schutzstaffel; German paramilitary organization] troops in Holland and Normandy. They were better soldiers, were meaner, and were more dedicated than the normal Army. Blakey and his men [Annotator's Note: part of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division] were better trained, had better equipment, and wanted it worse than they did. [Annotator's Note: An interviewer asks Blakey what he thought of the German MG-42, Maschinengewehr 42; 7.92x 57mm Mauser general purpose machine gun.] It was the most devastating thing he can think of. That thing threw more lead at them than you could shake a stick at. It could be taken rather easily, because the barrel would get hot and had to be changed. At that point, it became vulnerable. In Saving Private Ryan [Annotator's Note: 1998 American war film set during the Invasion of Normandy], the scene wherein they take the radar station, is absolutely the way the Army did it. Blakey fought around Nijmegen [Annotator's Note: Nijmegen, Netherlands] trying to take and hold three bridges. They went in September [Annotator's Note: September 1944] and came out in early November [Annotator's Note: November 1944]. The weather was beginning to get nippy when they came out. He feels like they left a good bunch of people behind that the Germans would come in and slaughter. It turned out to be like that. They [Annotator's Note: 82nd Airborne Division] had about 5,000 casualties, as did the 101st [Annotator's Note: 101st Airborne Division]. The British 6th [Annotator's Note: 6th Airborne Division, British Army] was annihilated. Blakey returned to France around Soissons [Annotator's Note: Soissons, France]. Winter was coming. [Annotator's Note: An interviewer stops to change tapes.]

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Thomas J. Blakey and his outfit [Annotator's Note: 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division] were in France a little more than a month. They were called up when the Bulge [Annotator's Note: Battle of the Bulge or German Ardennes Counter Offensive, 16 December 1944 to 25 January 1945] started. In General Gavin's [Annotator's Note: US Army Lieutenant General James Maurice "Jumpin' Jim" Gavin] book, "The Road to Berlin" [Annotator's Note: "On to Berlin", published 1 September 1978 by Bantam Books], he relates all this significance of all this stuff. On one evening, Gavin got a call that they could not find Ridgway [Annotator's Note: US Army General Matthew Bunker Ridgway]. Gavin was told he was now the 17th Army Airborne Corp Commander and had to get to Belgium as soon as he could. He issued five days of ammunition and five days of rations to everybody. The trucks came and they loaded up. The 101st [Annotator's Note: 101st Airborne Division] did not have any of that; no ammunition and no rations. Blakey was almost to Bastogne [Annotator's Note: Bastogne, Belgium] when they turned to the area around Saint Vith [Annotator's Note: Saint Vith, Belgium]. One cannot understand the weather that was abominable. It was cold. You learned to sleep in a foxhole with water in it, with snow in it. You were never warm. You slept cold if you slept at all. The Germans had the upper hand to start with. The key to the whole thing were the two points where the 101st was and where they were. They would let them come through and they would hack them off. It was difficult to move around, and they had to completely change their method of operation. They got it done despite everything. It was just as cold for the Germans. They had better wools and most of them had white uniforms. Blakey went to Spa [Annotator's Note: Spa, Belgium] where there is a Roman hot bath. Frazier [Annotator's Note: phonetic spelling; unable to identify further] and he came out of that bath when a convoy of officers was coming down the street, led by General Brereton [Annotator's Note: later United States Air Force Lieutenant General Lewis Hyde Brereton]. A man jumped out who was a Company Commander in the 505, named Joe Gibbons [Annotator's Note: US Army Captain Patrick Joseph Gibbons, Jr.]. Brereton began to look for an aid, who was a parachutist and who spoke French. Gibbons suited that. Gibbons recognized Blakey and Frazier and inquired into the status of some of his friends. A Major there with them asked the two if they would like a job. They went to their outfit and the Captain told them they had orders to Paris [Annotator's Note: Paris, France]. They spent eight months doing that and it was beautiful. Frazier was the driver and Blakey sat on the backseat with a rifle. They did errands and they drew the rations for the Frenchmen in the group. They went all over the place with him [Annotator's Note: with Brereton]. They went to Liege [Annotator's Note: Liège, Belgium] and drove to Metz [Annotator's Note: Metz, France] so he could thank Patton [Annotator's Note: US Army Lieutenant General George S. Patton, Jr.] for relieving the 101st [Annotator's Note: 101st Airborne Division] in Bastogne [Annotator's Note: Bastogne, Belgium]. Blakey got to meet Patton who had a high, squeaky voice, but was a tough old man. Patton told Blakey he did not like paratroopers and Blakey told him he knew that.

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Thomas J. Blakey worked for eight months in Paris [Annotator's Note: Paris, France] and then was sent home. He [Annotator's Note: later United States Air Force Lieutenant General Lewis Hyde Brereton] called them [Annotator's Note: Blakey and Jim Frazier, phonetic spelling] in around 1 June [Annotator's Note: 1 June 1945] and asked them if they wanted to go home. He told them he was sending them on 13 June [Annotator's Note: 13 June 1945] to MacDill Field [Annotator's Note: now MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida], Tampa, Florida. One of them had to stay there until he got there a month later. That man had to get his house stocked. They took a B-17 [Annotator's Note: Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber] and flew to Azores [Annotator's Note: Azores (autonomous region), Portugal], then Newfoundland [Annotator's Note: Newfoundland, Canada], and then to Billy Mitchell Field [Annotator's Note: Mitchel Field, Long Island, New York] one night. The immigration man followed them to the tarmac. He drove up and told them that he did not want anything except the straw wrappers around the bottles. They had three cases of champagne, a couple cases of cognac, and some others. That was a lot of straw. Blakey went to the PX [Annotator's Note: post exchange] to get American beer. They went down to New York [Annotator's Note: New York, New York] for two or three days to inspect the airplane. They landed at MacDill and went to a barracks. They found the house and bought a deck of cards. They cut the cards to see who high man was, who could then go home. They did that for three days and finally made the deal. Frazier cut the Ace of Spades and got to go home. Blakey went to the base commander and reported in. Blakey got everything to put the house together. He met them [Annotator's Note: General Brereton] when they came. Frazier was back from furlough [Annotator's Note: an authorized absence for a short period of time] and was there. There were a lot of officers and Brereton was pleased with the house. He told Blakey he had to stay a few days. He needed some things picked up in Houston [Annotator's Note: Houston, Texas]. Major Gibbons [Annotator's Note: US Army Major Patrick Joseph Gibbons, Jr.] took Blakey to Houston and dropped him off. Blakey was discharged in September [Annotator's Note: September 1945] as a Staff Sergeant. He had never gotten a scratch.

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Thomas J. Blakey never saw any USO [Annotator's Note: United Service Organizations, Inc.] shows. [Annotator's Note: An interviewer asks Blakey to explain an incident with a jeep at Fort Benning, Georgia.] That was at Camp Mackall [Annotator's Note: in Richmond County and Scotland County, North Carolina]. Blakey was in the communications school. The Ford Motor Company had made a much lighter jeep. [Annotator's Note: Blakey's phone rings at 1:16:14.000.] The Army was trying to see what they could do and how they could be used for paratroopers when they got on the ground instead of having to wait for the gliders to bring them. Blakey's part was to attach communications to the jeep and see how that would stand up under the drop. They dropped eight or nine of them and they did not stand up. It was a good idea that did not work. The gliders could bring a jeep in with the equipment attached. [Annotator's Note: An interviewer asks what the frying pan area of Fort Benning was.] It was where the Army had taken over some acreage in Alabama. They built tar paper shacks. They never cooled off and were hot in the summertime. It was miserable. They had to take a ferry across the Chattahoochee River to get to the main post. They had a bus to go from Lawson Field [Annotator's Note: Lawson Army Airfield, Fort Benning] to the main post, go into town of 20,000 people who were hosting 100,000 soldiers. They did not want them to walk on the grass or mess with their daughters. It was not a good experience. They made it work. Phenix City was across the river in Alabama. [Annotator's Note: An interviewer asks Blakey about his yearly trips to France.] A man Blakey knows puts trips together every year to Europe. Blakey visits Holland, Normandy, the Bulge [Annotator's Note: he means the areas in which the Battle of the Bulge or German Ardennes Counter Offensive were fought between 16 December 1944 and 25 January 1945 in the Ardennes Forest in Belgium]. He made one trip to Paris [Annotator's Note: Paris, France] alone. He has gone to the World War 1 battlefields and cemeteries.

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