A Crash That Changed Everything
aka The "Band of Brothers" Crash
June 6th, 1944
"The Day of Days"...
Born in Philadelphia on July 8, 1921, Thomas Meehan was an artist from the start. He trained at the Philadelphia School of Industrial Art to become a commercial artist, but when the United States entered World War II, he joined the Cavalry while it was still mounted, but found himself in a tank, not so much to his liking. He managed to get transferred to the infantry, as a paratrooper, and assigned to Company "B" of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment in England.
|The transfer of Captain Herbert Sobel to command a parachute training school for non-combat officers created a leadership void in "Easy" Company, and the higher-ups choose First Lieutenant Meehan to assume command.|
On the evening of June 5th,1944, 1st LT Thomas Meehan boarded the lead C-47 of their formation, Plane #66, to be parachuted in Normandy, along with the company's staff made up of 16 paratroopers, and the C-47's flight crew of five. Piloting the 'Dakota' was Lt. Harold Cappelluto
Before takeoff on D-Day, Meehan wrote a letter and handed it out the door of the C-47 to be sent to his wife:
In a few hours I'm going to take the best company of men in the world into France. We'll give the bastards hell. Strangely, I'm not particularly scared. But in my heart is a terrific longing to hold you in my arms.
I love you Sweetheart-forever.
In the Stephen Ambrose book, Band of Brothers, Lt. Frank Deflita, the pilot of the plane following Plane #66, remembered: "As we flew over Normandy, DCA's started shooting at us, and Harold's plane got it several times. I could see Flak shrapnels going straight through his plane. After maintaining its course and speed for a while, the plane left the formation and slowly initiated a right turn. I followed it with my eyes and noticed its landing lights coming on, I thought it was going to be all right. Then, suddenly, it came crashing down a hedgerow and instantly exploded."
|Plane #66 had been hit by German ground fire near St Mere Eglise. The plane crashed into the ground between Beuzeville au Plain and Haut Fornel.|
Henry Margerie, Mayor of Beuzeville au Plain, witnessed the accident. He also remembers: "As we awakened to Flak shooting and planes flying over the area, I saw a plane close to the village which seemed to be trouble and attempted to land. I lost sight of it for a brief moment and then heard a loud explosion. The plane had crashed on a hedgerow bordering a field near the village. It burnt for three days, and the heat created by the fire made it impossible for us to approach."
Click here to see the full flight crew and paratroopers manifest of Plane #66
The loss of virtually the entire senior staff of the company...
Meehan was buried with 22 others in Ste. Mere-Eglise. But in 1952, the remains of nearly all abroad were brought back to the United States and reburied. Meehan's remains are buried in the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery (Plot 84 0 25-31), located just south of St. Louis, Missouri, along with those of the C-47 aircrew and his fellow paratroopers.
|Only the remains of the pilot, Lt. Harold Cappelluto, were identifed and buried in Europe at the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer. |
A monument was dedicated on June 6th, 2000, at Beuzeville, listing the names of those aboard the downed C-47. The memorial is in the shape of an aircraft's tail.
The saga of "Easy" Company became the focal point of Stephen Ambrose's Band of Brothers novel, and acclaimed 10-part television miniseries, co-produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks. The miniseries of Band of Brothers first aired in 2001 on HBO and still runs frequently on different TV channels around the world