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America's Elite Troops
in World War II


Converted for the Web from "Beyond Valor: World War II's Ranger and Airborne Veterans Reveal the Heart of Combat" by Patrick K. O'Donnell

Gliders gradually became part of the airborne program, the glider program slowly taking shape in 1942. Nicknamed "canvas coffins," the flimsy gliders had plywood floors and a steel tubing frame covered with a canvas skin. The standard Waco CG-4A Glider had a troop capacity of fifteen men and the capability to carry a jeep or small artillery piece. The engineless glider was towed by a C-47 transport plane until over its landing zone, when the tow plane would release a three-hundred-foot nylon towrope, and the glider made what amounted to a crash landing. Gliding was a dangerous and thankless job. In training alone, from May 1943 to February 1944, there were 162 injuries and seventeen deaths due to glider accidents. Many more men would die when their gliders cracked up on the landing zones of Europe.

Looked down upon by the paratroopers, the "glider riders" were not issued jump boots or wings and did not receive hazardous-duty pay like the troopers; nor were they volunteers. A poster designed by the glider troops that began circulating around the barracks explained their plight: "Join the Glider Troops! No Jump Pay. No Flight Pay. But Never A Dull Moment." Eventually, glider regiments were formed and attached to the airborne divisions, proving their mettle on many occasions. Not until July 1944 would the glidermen receive their well-earned hazardous-duty pay and the right to wear glider wings.

Copyright © 2001 by Patrick K. O'Donnell. All rights reserved. Converted for the Web with the permission of Simon & Schuster.

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