Bill was born and raised in Southern California. His mother was a nurse and his father was in the construction industry. Bill enlisted in the army on September 9, 1942 after the Marines had turned him down for being color-blind. Like most of the Los Angeles area recruits, he was processed through Fort McArthur in San Pedro, California. It was at Fort McArthur that Bill decided to volunteer to join the airborne rather than being in the regular infantry. The additional $50.00 per month pay for a paratrooper probably had something to do with his decision, but his adventurous personality did too.
William P. Galbraith
Bill was made to wait for a few days while the army found other airborne volunteers to add to his group. Once there were enough of them, they were taken to the train station and put in their own pullman car, which was attached to a train heading east. Also on the same train was fellow Californian, Manny Barrios, who had been made put in charge of their small group. Manny's job was to keep the group of new recruits in line until they reached their destination which would turn out to be Camp Toccoa, Georgia.
The train ride was long and slow. Their pullman car would sometimes be left sitting by itself on a side railroad track near a town while it waited to be attached to a different train that would be going in the direction they needed to go. The new recruits were not allowed to leave the train. However, as Manny Barrios tells the story, every time the train would stop near a town, Bill would beg Manny to let him get off and run into town with the promise he would be back before they left. Due to Bill's persistance, Manny would give in and let Bill go, but with the warning that if he missed the train, it would be Bill's problem. Manny said Bill never missed the train, but almost every time he would end up running after it as it pulled out of the station. Manny also mentioned that there was usually a pack of young women running behind Bill as he left.
When they arrived at Camp Toccoa, Bill and the other recruits were placed in the temporary "W" company, nicknamed "Cow" company. New recruits coming in, and rejects going out, were all placed in that company until they were ready for the next step of their ordeal. Based on the time he arrived at Camp Toccoa, Bill was eventually placed in "I" company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment under the leadership of Captain Charles Shettle. Manny Barrios and a couple other guys who were on the same train car were also placed in the same company. Actually, they made it just in time, as "I" was the last company formed in the 506th under it's commander Col. Robert Sink.
The 506th was a new and somewhat experimental unit of the US Army. The goal of taking new recruits off the street and turning them into an elite, highly trained, airborne unit was something many of the higher ranks at the Pentegon thought would be impossible. The location of Camp Toccoa was chosen partly because it was fairly unknown, so if the this new idea failed, it would not happen in the public eye. The training at Toccoa would be very tough physically. The goal was not only to train the men and make them extremely fit, but to also eliminate the weaker candidates who could not keep up. The first and second battalions of the 506th had already begun their training, so according to Bill, this meant that his battalion had to do everything better than the rest of the regiment who had set the standard before them.After all, they were last in the line of “one-upmanships”.
The training was tough, but it soon turned the men into examples of what a highly fit soldier should be. Besides the obstacle course, which in itself was very grueling, there were also the runs up Mt. Currahee. This imposing mound next to the camp had a 3 mile dirt trail to its peak, which was up a very steep grade, especially at the end. All of the 506th would run 3 miles up, and three miles down, at least once a day, but sometimes more. Many a weaker man was eliminated from the unit on these runs. The men also received other training that was not so physical, such as the basic military regulations, equipment and weapons training. During this training,Bill qualified as a machine gunner and became the assistant gunner in a light machine gun squad.
Three months later, basic training at Toccoa was complete and it was time for the 506th to begin their parachute training. For this new training the regiment was moved to the parachute school at Fort Benning, Georgia. 1st battalion had arrived at Ft. Benning weeks earlier to begin the parachute program while Bill's battalion was finishing up their basic at Toccoa. The first stage of the parachute training, known as "A" stage, was physical conditioning. However, it did not take long for the "cadre" of instructors at Ft. Benning to realize that the men of the 506th were in better physical shape than they were. By the time Bill's third battalion arrived in early December 1942 for their parachute training, "A" stage had been eliminated from the program, at least for the 506th.
"B" stage of parachute training started with the the men being educated on procedures and equipment. They would then begin jump training from towers of various heights and other aparatus designed to familiarize them with the operation of the parachute, and to mentally prepare them for their first jumps from an actual airplane. Every man, officers included, would be required to make 5 successful qualifying jumps from an airplane to earn their parachute jump wings.
One of the training towers at Ft. Benning
One of the tall Ft. Benning towers
Bill was parachute certified and earned his jump wings with the rest of 3rd battlion, 506th PIR on January 3, 1943. In addition to now being able to proudly wear their jump wings, Bill and the other paratroopers were also able to wear jump boots with their pants legs "blouced" out of the top of the boots. This was a look that they were proud to earn, and would even fight over at times in their future.
Bill and his Machine Gun at Camp Mackall
The next stage of their training would include intense weapon training, military tactics, and manuvers. On February 26th, 1943, Col. Sink took his regiment to Camp Mackall, Georgia to begin this training. On June 10th of that year, the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment was formally attached to the 101st Airborne Division. In late August, the regiment was moved to Camp Shanks, New York in preparation for it's move overseas. Within a few days after their arrival, on September 5th, 1943, Bill's regiment would board the USS Samaria and sail to England in order to make final preparations for joining the war in Europe.
After arriving in Liverpool on September 15th, the various 101st units on the ship were sent to different areas of England to be billeted and continue training. Besides the additional training, Bill and his company were also part of a demonstration jump on March 23rd, 1944, for Sir Winston Churchill and Generals Dwight D. Eisenhower and Omar Bradley.
The Invasion Begins
Soon it was the evening of June 5th, 1944 and Bill found himself at Exeter Air Base in England, boarding a C-47 transport plane to be flown over the coast of France for the invasion of Europe. All of the riflemen in his platoon had been taken away to act as security for the Pathfinders who had left for the drop zones before the main invasion force. This left Bill and his machine gun squad to join a stick from other platoons of his company. Bill’s company flew to France as part of serial #16, and they would drop at about 01:40 as one of the last groups of paratroopers to go in.
Bill Galbraith with I Company, 506th PIR
Bill was scheduled to land at Drop Zone “D” near Angoville au Plain with the battalion objective of seizing and securing the road and foot bridges over the Douve River near Brevands. As he exited the plane on his jump, Bill took a quick look around at all the anti-aircraft fire the Germans were filling the sky with. He was amazed at all the different colors he saw. Very quickly he was on the ground. Bill's landing, like his jump, was fairly uneventful, although he did lose the leg bag containing his machine gun as it was snapped away when he exited the plane (a common problem for all the troopers with the new, untested leg bags that night).
Instead of being on his scheduled drop zone, Bill landed somewhere southeast of St. Come-du-Mont. Once on the ground, he met up with the "I" Company's senior enlisted man, First Sergeant Paul Garrison. Unfortunately the First Sergeant had broken his ankle on landing. Bill was not about to leave him beind, so he decided to assist Sergeant Garrison until they could get him to safety. They met up with a couple other troopers that Bill did not know, but they decided to stay together as they moved through the dark night. It was much safer that way.
As a result of First Sergeant Garrisons injury, they had trouble keeping up with the other guys in the group. If they had any fear of being left behind, it probably turned to relief when the group entered a field a bit later. When they did, a flare was shot in the sky and then a machine gun opened up on them. This happened at about the time the main body of the group reached the center of the field. Fortunately Bill and Sgt. Garrison were still back in the shadows of the hedges bordering the field and they just froze (as they had been trained) while everyone else hit the dirt. Rather than entering the field, Bill and Sgt. Garrison decided to go a different route. To this day, Bill does not know if the guys ahead of them were just dropping to the ground for safety, or if they had been shot by the machine gun. Bill never saw them again.
Eventually Bill and Sgt. Garrison ended up being absorbed into a large group from the 501st PIR under the command of Col. Howard Johnson. This was near the locks at la Barquette in an area that would later become known as Hell’s Corners. Bill was rearmed with another machine gun and he stayed and fought with the 501st for a while. Eventually he was reunited with his company at the bridges on June 8th after they had been blown up by the US Army Aircorp.
The next real action that Bill and his company saw was on June 13th in an area southwest of Carentan that would later be known as “Bloody Gully”. Rather than waiting for a counter attack by the Germans, regimental commander Col. Robert Sink committed his unit to an offensive that morning. Bill and his machine gun squad became heavily involved in the fighting that day against the German 6th Falschirmjäger (paratrooper) Regiment and the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division, “Götz von Berlichingen”. Bill would survive, and while acting as rear guard, would be the last man of his company out of the area when the fighting was done.
Most of the major engagements of the Normandy campaign were over for Bill and his company. After various point and rear guard assignments, Bill and the remainder of the 101st would start heading back to England for rest and refitting in early July.
Once back in England, Bill’s regiment and the remainder of the 101st was to supposed to rest and receive new equipment, weapons, and ammunition. They also received new men in the unit as replacements for the many soldiers that were killed, wounded, or captured in Normandy. During this time Bill was reassigned from “I” company to the S-3 or Operations section of battalion HQ to replace Joe Gorence who had been captured in Normandy. Bill’s new commander was S-3 leader Captain John Kiley from New York. Captain Kiley was a man that Bill really liked and respected and his feelings were obviously mutual since the Captain had personally chosen Bill for the position. As part of the S-3 section, Bill would be responsible for many new duties including helping to create the sand tables for the men to study their objective on the next mission. His new assignment would very soon have a profound impact on his life.
Capt. John W. Kiley
Operation Market Garden
The next major operation that Bill and the 101st would be involved in began on September 17th, 1944.Known as Operation Market Garden, it would be the largest airborne invasion of all times.The mission was an attempt at ending the war early by dropping Allied troops behind enemy lines into the Netherlands. This would put them closer to the German capitol of Berlin.It was basically a British run operation which had been authored by one of their senior commanders, Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery. For the operation the 101st Airborne Division was attached to the the First British Airborne Division as was the 82nd Airborne Division and the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade. This move was part of the creation of the First Allied Airborne Army by General Dwight D. Eisenhower on August 2nd, 1944.
For their part of the operation, the 506th PIR was to drop into the area of Son, Holland to seize the bridge south of the town over the Wilhelmina Canal before the Germans could destroy it. They would then move south again and liberate the town of Eindhoven. Unlike the night drop the division made in Normandy on the eve of the D-Day invasion, the drop into The Netherlands would be in the middle of the day.
At about 1:00 PM on September 17th, 1944, units of the 101st Airborne Division began dropping onto their assigned DZ's in the southern region of The Netherlands know as Holland. It was a clear and sunny afternoon and their drop zones were all open pastures. Some of the planes had been hit by German ainti-aircraft fire (flak) as they approached the DZ's, but for the most part, the drop was very successful and the casualties we minimal as compared to the June 5th nightdrop. After landing, the various units of the 101st formed up on a section of the DZ and then headed off to their objectives. Unfortunately DZ "C" where the 506th landed was too far from their objective, by the time they arrived at the bridge, it had just been blown up by the Germans.
A platoon from the company of 326th Airborne Engineers who were attached to the 506th were able to construct a temporary crossing over the canal out of debris from the blown bridge and wood planks hidden nearby by some local residents. Men of the regiment began to slowly cross the canal, and later after a pontoon bridge was constructed, came across in full force. By the time the entire regiment was all on the south side of the canal it was about 01:00 on the morning of September 18th. Col. Sink made the decision to have his regiment set up camp for the night in a small hamlet called Bokt with plans to continue their advance and liberation in the morning.
Beginning at about 06:00 on the morning of day two of the operation, September 18th, the 506th regiment moved forward with the goal of liberating the town of Eindhoven. The 3rd battalion took the lead with 2nd battalion behind it while 1st battalion remained back in reserve around Son.
3rd battalion moved forward for the assault with “H” company on the left flank and “I” company on the right. As they headed south and entered the town, "G" company remained in the rear. Captain Kiley and his S-3 section worked their way down the road between the two companies with the job of co-coordinating movement between the two. Bill was acting as Captain Kiley's runner and was at his side during the advance.
As they worked their way into town on the road Vlokshovenweg, Captain Kiley and Bill arrived at a burning German truck in the middle of the road. At that point Captain Kiley noticed that “H” company on the left was advancing too slowly. The Captain told Bill to run back and get word to Major Horton, the battalion commander, that “H” company needed to move forward. Bill had only gone back about 100 yards when he ran into his buddy Jim Brown who was now acting as the battalion radioman. He told Jim to get on the walkie-talkie to “H” company to tell them that Major Horton said to get up on the line before the Germans could out flank them. Obviously Bill had never spoken to Major Horton about this, but he figured he'd just get it done his way. Jim quickly sent the message, but not a second after he finished, a German sniper shot the radio out of his hand while it was still next to his face. Jim didn't even flinch. He just looked at the destroyed walkie-talkie on the ground, shook his head, and walked away saying "Well I guess that's no good anymore".
Bill then ran back to where he had left Captain Kiley. When he got there, the Captain asked Bill if he had spoken to Major Horton. Bill, who was now taking cover on the left side of the road yelled back, "No sir, but I got the job done". At that point Bill realized the Captain was exposing himself too much as he was standing up behind the burning German truck on the right side of the road, a very dangerous thing to do. Bill quickly yelled to Captain Kiley to get down or he would get himself shot. Captain Kiley turned towarsds Bill and yelled back "Bill if I get down, so will everyone else". Just as the Captain finished this sentence, a shot rang out and he was struck in the throat.
Sketch of Bill and Capt. Kiley's positions - click to enlarge
View from the church tower the sniper would have had
Bill was shocked by what he saw but immediately took action. First he made a split second visual search of the surrounding area for any sign of the sniper. He didn’t see anyone, but there were a few windows facing him and the sniper could have been hiding in the shadows behind any one of them. He took aim with his M1 Garand rifle and put a few rounds into each (he didn't like the shorter and less powerful M1 carbine he had been issued, so he had traded it for the Garand before the Holland invasion). The furthest windows he saw that might have been a possible hiding spot for a sniper were in the bell tower of a Catholic church a few hundred yards ahead. He carefully put a couple well placed rounds in those windows and in the window of a house much closer across the street to his right.
After firing, Bill ran across the street to see if he could help his friend and commander Captain Kiley. Unfortunately the Captain had died instantly, there was nothing Bill could do. He could however try and find the enemy and get revenge. Bill yelled to Sgt. Jerry Beam of "I" company, who was on his right, and asked if he could join his old company as they made their advance into Eindhoven. Sgt. Beam said yes, so Bill cautiously ran forward down the road towards the church. It was his intention to go up in the bell tower where he thought the sniper was most likely positioned. He ran up to the big wooden door, pulled out his .45 pistol, and shot a couple rounds into the door latch before throwing all his weight against it to break it in. Unfortunately all that happened was he bounced off and landed on his rear on the sidewalk. Years later, he found out that the heavy door opened outward. Realizing he was now out in the open and exposed to possible enemy fire, Bill got up and began to move forward down the left side of the street behind Jerry Beam and George McMillan from "I" company.
Onze Lieve Vrouwe van Lourdes (Our Dear Lady of Lourdes)
Bill Galbraith across from Our Dear Lady of Lourdes in 2004
The sidewalks were very narrow and the front doors of the homes were practically right on the street. The enemy began firing at Bill and the other guys with a machine gun, so he quickly ducked into a doorway of one of the homes on the left to take cover. About that time the Germans opened fire with two 88mm cannons. The German 88mm cannon was one of the most deadly weapons of the war. Besides being an effective weapon for shooting at airplanes and firing at long distance targets, the Germans could lower the barrell and shoot straight at an object in the distance like a large rifle. The weapon was very accurate.
The first round the Germans fired hit the building across the street from Bill. The entire front of the building was blown out. Bill noticed a member of "I" company taking cover next to that building and yelled out to him "that was a close one". The next two rounds that came in had a much more devastating result.The first of the two landed closer to Bill and schrapnel from it struck one of his legs, knocking him to the ground. Bill started crawling back towards the doorway, but the second round came in and he was stuck again, this time in the shoulder. About then Bill "decided that maybe he wasn't in the safest place" and using his good leg, pushed himself back towards the church and out of the line of fire. Unfortunately he was not able to move very well, but at that moment the front door of the next house near him opened up and a local man came out and proceeded to drag Bill inside. The mans name was Pete Klompmaker, and after dragging Bill into his home, he began to tend to his wounds as best he could.
One of the two 88's that was firing on Bill.
This is the second of the two 88's
3rd battalion 506th continued to move forward and with some help from 2nd battalion, captured the two 88mm cannons and finished liberating Eindhoven. The war was pretty much over for Bill at this point. He was soon taken to an aid station and then put on an ambulance to be evacuated back to England. However he was not out of danger yet, the ambulance he was put in came under attack and almost crashed. But eventually they made it away from the frot line and drove to France where he was put on a boat to England.
Bill was hospitalized for treatment in England and eventually moved to a hospital back in the States. He would spend the next two years being operated on and going through rehabilitation. The doctors were able to save his leg and patch up his other wounds fairly well. After healing, Bill would eventually be honorably discharged from the service on June 18, 1947.
Over the next 65 years, Bill would return to both Normandy and Holland for several commemorations of the invasions. He would even take part in a few parachute jumps as part of the ceremonies. Bill married his Scottish sweetheart Anna, who he had met while stationed in England. Anna would move to Southern California and they would raise 10 wonderful children together.
Painted by Bill Galbraith
Bill and Anna still reside in Southern California and they are very active in the local chapter of the 101st Airborne Division Association. Bill is also quite the artist. The painting to the left is an example of one of his many works of art. Three of his paintings are in museums in The Netherlands, one in San Diego, California, and one in the Webmaster's home, all depicting his view as he jumped from his C-47 into Son on 9/17/1944. His art has also been featured in the "Airborne Quarterly" magazine and adornes many of the 101stADASCC souvenirs.