Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin H. Vandervoort was the commanding officer of 2nd Battalion, 505th PIR, of the 82nd Airborne Division on June 6th, 1944. The 27 year old Colonel's objective was to land behind enemy lines on D-Day and block all German attempts to move against the small French village Sainte-Mere-Eglise. Colonel Vandervoort's journey to his objective became harder than he expected.
When both 101st and 82nd Airborne paratroopers overshot their drop zone that morning, they began landing directly in the streets of Sainte-Mere-Eglise. That night, some buildings were on fire and the German troops assigned to the town were all awake, helping civilians put out the fires. The paratroopers became easy targets for the Germans. They were shot in air before they hit the ground or were quickly gunned down once they landed. Some paratroopers were sucked into the burning buildings. One paratrooper dangled from the spire of the town church and watched the battle take place below him. Their attempt to take Sainte-Mere-Eglise early that morning had failed. Nearly every paratrooper who landed in the town was killed.
Colonel Ben Vandervoort had a rough landing that morning. He missed his drop zone by a mile and broke his left ankle when he hit the ground. With his ankle broken, running into combat to fight the enemy was out of the question. But Vandervoort knew that there was nothing to be done about it. He instructed the medic to tie his boot extra tight to work as a splint. With help from his men, Vandervoort pushed forward hobbling towards Sainte-Mere-Eglise.
"It was the hardest opening I ever experienced. I had to jump at 130-140 m.p.h. This was the roughest jump I ever had. It tore off some of my equipment. I landed heavily and broke my leg. It was a clean fracture, just above the ankle." -Benjamin Vandervoort
After daylight, Vandervoort approached two 101st Airborne Sergeants who were in the wrong location. They were unarmed and pulling along a captured German ammunition cart. Because of the pain and slow pace Vandervoort was moving, he ordered the two Sergeants to pull him into Sainte-Mere-Eglise on their cart. According to Vandervoort and his men, one of the 101st Sergeants replied with, "I didn't come to Normandy to pull a fucking colonel around." Apparently Vandervoort gave the Sergeant a verbal beating which he later paraphrased to "I persuaded him otherwise!"
Colonel Vandervoort arrived in Sainte-Mere-Eglise riding atop the ammunition cart. His 2nd Battalion took the town at noon with little resistance. Bodies from earlier that morning were scattered all over the town. The hobbled Colonel Benjamin Vandervoort held Sainte-Mere-Eglise that morning from the Germans, and prevented German counterattacks the following days in the Battle of Normandy.
Col. Ben Vandervoort was to be a main character in the 1962 war epic The Longest Day. The film is based on Cornelius Ryan's book by the same name, even though Benjamin Vandervoort is never mentioned in the book. Hollywood superstar John Wayne played Vandervoort in the film. At the time of the film, 1962, John Wayne was 55 years old, at the time of D-Day, 1944, Ben Vandervoort was 27 years old. Despite the major age difference, John Wayne was cast. Although considered a good movie, they watered down many of the actual events. Instead of having the 101st Sergeant say "I didn't come to Normandy to pull a fucking colonel around." when told to carry Vandervoort on his cart, he just says "But sir...I...Yes, sir." and eventually says "It's a privilege to serve with you, Colonel!" upon arriving in Sainte-Mere-Eglise.
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