My uncle David was born November 27, 1921 in London Oregon. He grew up on his fathers farm in Youngstown New York.
David applied for pilots training in the Army Air Corp shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He was accepted and left home shortly after. According to his mother he did well until he contracted an ear infection, was grounded and dismissed. He immediately enlisted for glider pilot training. He completed the training and his mother claims was one of two in his class to receive a commission.
He was assigned to the 440th Troop Carrier Group. His first mission, according to John L. Lowden was either in Southern France (Operation Dragon) or Holland (Operation Market Garden). Glider pilots flew flying bricks filled with airborne troops and supplies towed behind C-47 tow planes. They generally went into hostile landing zones right behind the paratroopers.
On March 24th, 1945 the 440th was part of Operation Varsity, a push across the Rhine river at Wesel late in the war. The 440th and other troop carrier groups transported the U.S. 17th Airborne on the assault in conjunction with the British 6th Airborne.
After flying through enemy anti-aircraft fire and descending through a smoke screen to land in his designated landing zone, my uncle was killed.
Author John L. Lowden in his book Silent Wings at War had this to say about my uncle and his death.
We lost only one glider pilot in my squadron on Varsity. His name was David Hays, the straightest arrow I ever met in the army. Stocky, of medium height, with blond hair and blue eyes, he didn't smoke or drink or join in the carousing and skirt chasing. He was engaged to a girl back home and spent a great deal of free time sitting on his bunk writing her letters. Though he kept mostly to himself, he had a shy friendliness.
Hays was an excellent pilot, and he looked upon his glider as almost a living thing. That was his undoing. At the end of his landing roll in a German farmyard, he braked his left wheel to swing his glider to the left to avoid clipping a tool shed with his right wing. As the glider came to a stop, a German soldier stepped out of the shed and ripped off a long burst at the glider with a Schmeisser machine pistol. Four of the troops aboard were wounded. Those still mobile clambered out of the two exit ports on the left and hit the dirt. The German fired a short burst at them and fled. Hays took two rounds in the chest and died instantly.
My uncle David was buried at the military cemetery in Margratten Holland. In his memoirs my grandfather, Norman Hays said that David had written about how much he liked Holland. Because of this my grandparents approved of his being buried there. My grandparents were able to visit the grave of their eldest son once in their lifetimes.
My father was the youngest of six children. He named me after the big brother, eleven years older, whom I think he both loved and idolized. My cousins who I've spoken to about it and I know little of our Uncle. Our guess is that the pain and loss was such that it was too difficult for our parents and grandparents to talk much of him.
"I'll tell you straight out: If you've got to go into combat, don't go by glider. Walk, crawl, parachute, swim, float -- anything. But don't go by glider!
This comes from one who did it -- once.
I came away with unstinting admiration for those airborne troops who did it more than once, and a lot of awe for those glider pilots who did it over and over again."--Walter Cronkite
Photos of David in 440th.
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