Frank Soboleski: Parachuting into Holland
Following the Allied invasion on the beaches of Normandy in 1944, American troops fought their way through France and the Netherlands on their way to Germany in the Battle of the Bulge. Frank Soboleski of International Falls, Minnesota was among the 101st Airborne Division paratroopers dropped into Holland in September 1944. He told his story to historian Thomas Saylor in a 2001 oral history interview.
TS: Where in the Netherlands were you dropped?
TS: What was the situation when you joined the unit?
FS: They were beaten back. They'd had to retreat; they were overwhelmed with superior forces. Superior enemy forces just drove them out of there. [The Germans] were well fortified, they were prepared for it, they were lying in the bush until the Americans came. And when they did come, they just pulverized them.
TS: How would you characterize those Germans you encountered when you dropped into the Netherlands?
FS: They were a fearful bunch. They were professional; they were so good. They never made a mistake. They knew everything. It was their home ground; it was their backyard. And we were newcomers; everything was new to us. They knew every building, every depression in the soil. They had their tanks hid. They were a superior race of military people.
TS: When you finally learned that you were to be dropped into a combat situation, do you remember your reaction to getting the news that you were actually going?
FS: Well, there was a certain element of fear and anticipation. "I've been waiting for this; let's go. Why are we dragging our feet? That's what we're here for." That's the feelings that had been generated among the ones that were held in reserve.
TS: When you mention the concept of fear, what kind of a fear was it?
FS: The unknown. You don't know what you're going to come into. You're trying to be ready for everything, but it's going to be a dangerous situation. And that fear of, "What's it going to be like? What can I expect?" Fear of the unknown.
TS: Do you remember that jump into the Netherlands?
FS: A peaceful jump, beautiful jump. It was a day like today [sunny with a temperature of about 40º F]. Where I landed there was no opposition—I landed in a cow pie. It was a pasture, where there were black cows with white stripes on them. I'll never forget that, a big white stripe right down the middle of the cow. No opposition whatsoever.
TS: How many guys jumped with you?
FS: I don't remember, but there was a lot of them. We had these crickets [handheld metal noisemakers that made a clicking sound], it was broad daylight, and we were walking around in the wrong position. You didn't need the cricket. You'd see people coming from all over that had landed. It wasn't even a combat situation; it was the Fourth of July. We all met in the orchard. It was an orchard.
TS: Anti-climactic, in a sense, after what you had prepared yourself for.
FS: Well, it's a hell of a word to use, but it was a letdown. I expected all hell and brimstone and fire and all the rest of it. But it didn't take long, and then we were into it.
TS: Can you describe that, from landing in that pasture to actually what happened next?
FS: Yes. You could hear it the whole time when we landed; you could hear artillery, you could hear machine guns, you could hear everything. But we were in like an isolated pocket, just fortunate. Remember we talked about luck? There it is again. A lot of people never made it to the ground [on other jumps]. They got hung up in church steeples, in trees, and they got riddled all to hell. That's luck, too. On my part, just sitting on my shoulder again. There weren't that many of us that were in there; there were probably forty people that landed, maybe four or five sticks, twelve people to a stick, that landed right where I was.
TS: Pretty soon after jumping into the Netherlands you mentioned that you entered a combat situation. Can you describe that briefly?
FS: [U.S. forces had] had the tar whipped out of them; they were a beaten force. And they sent us in there to replace them and assist them. That's what it was. The first thing, it was bullets, mud, artillery, trees shattered just all around you all of a sudden. As though they [Germans] anticipated the replacements. And they were ready for us. That's what we stepped into. That peaceful cow pasture situation didn't last very long.
It was within minutes. They saw us land; they saw us come down, and they were waiting when we came up to where the people were that we were sent to assist and replace.
TS: Were these all Americans, or were there British as well?
FS: No, they were all Americans. Later on we met British that were already landed, and they were coming back all battle scarred and beat and deprived of food and ammunition. We shared our rations and gave them comfort and assistance in any way they needed it, and then they joined us until they found their own outfit. Everything was all scattered and disorganized.
TS: Is that common in a combat situation, that things get all scattered and disorganized?
FS: It was that way almost all through the war. The wind shifts the plane, the pilot of the plane was, "Let me out of here, I'm going to dump them right now." That took place a lot. They'd dump then before they got to the combat zone or wherever they were supposed to be.
TS: To save themselves and their plane, they dumped the guys early?
FS: The green light would come on and, "Jump!" And we didn’t know that we were supposed to be there.
TS: You didn’t know where you were going, so when the green light went on, you just jumped. From Nijmegen, where did you move next with the unit?
FS: In the Netherlands. We moved to Mourmelon-le-Grand, France, after that. [The unit moved in late November 1944].
Soboleski, Frank; Thomas Saylor, Interviewer, Minnesota's Greatest Generation Oral History Project, Thomas Saylor; Minnesota Historical Society Oral History Collection, 2001.