WWII veteran flew in gliders; awarded French Legion of Honor
By Jim Hook | Public Opinion, Chambersburg, Pa. (MCT) | Published: August 16, 2014
Richard Methner recently was awarded France's highest honor for his contribution to the liberation of France during World War II.
Methner, a 97-year-old Chambersburg man, was a medic whose glider landed a day after D-Day. He participated in several battles on French soil, places whose names he can't remember or never knew.
The reluctant GI did what he was asked during the war, and he made it home. Methner served in a medical detachment with the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division.
"We were right behind the troops," Methner said.
The Legion of Honor is one of many medals that Methner was given for his service in Europe. He participated in the Normandy invasion, Operation Market Garden and the Battle of the Bulge. He was in Berlin as a member of the Occupation Force.
Mark Methner of Marshall, N.C., has applied to the Dutch for his father, Richard Methner, to be awarded the Orange Lanyard of the Royal Netherlands Army for his role in Operation Market Garden, the largest airborne operation of the era.
"They started shooting at us before we hit the ground," Richard said. "The shells were going right through the glider."
The Waco CG-4A glider had a steel-tube fuselage covered with fabric. The floor and seats were plywood. It's wings were wood and fabric.
"You could push in on it," Richard said. "You'd think: Jeez, how could this hold you up."
The glider also got into the air unlike any other aircraft. A C-47 started up and pulled a nylon cable attached to the front of the glider. The cable stretched like a rubber band, then "all of the sudden, 'bing,' she goes" with a jolt, according to Richard.
A glider's normal glide speed was 75 to 85 mph, according to historical accounts.
"A glider was not made for high speed," Richard said. "I could see the gauge from my seat in the Jeep. We weren't suppose to be doing more than 90 mph. The gauge said 110."
Released over the drop zone in Holland on Sept. 23, 1944, the glider pilots dropping out of the sky and jockeyed for the best landing spots. "It was a dangerous situation," he said.
Staff Sgt. Methner and three other men were take the Jeep and a trailer full of medical supplies onboard with them and set up a first aid station. They never got the chance.
Before the gliders
"I was one of the first to get drafted from my hometown of Old Bridge, New Jersey," Richard said. "I was one of the last to come home from the war."
One of a German-born carpenter's eight children, Richard Methner concentrated on getting a job during the Depression. Through a friend he was able to a get a job paying $30 a month as an assistant cook in a mental hospital in Marlboro, N.J. Fringe benefits included a uniform and food.
"At the time of the Depression that was a big thing," he said.
The assignment and his study of typing, shorthand and bookkeeping in high school were to prove in handy in the military.
Richard answered the letter from his local draft board on Christmas Eve 1940 and was told after his physical that it would be a while before he would have to report. The notice came quickly, and he reported on Feb. 13, 1941.
Toward the end of basic training at Camp Croft, South Carolina, Richard made his skills and previous experience known to the base hospital. To the displeasure of his drill instructor, the draftee got a job in the adjutant's office at the hospital.
For three years he held the position and advanced in rank.
"They needed troops overseas," Richard said. "So they sent in the WACs. I trained two of them to do the job."
In 1944 he went to Leicester, England.
"I didn't know I was Airborne until I got to England," he said. "I didn't volunteer for Airborne. I got shipped there."
He got his first glider training.
"You learned to secure everything," Richard said. "Everything had to be balanced."
The Germans kept shooting when the glider landed in a field at the edge of a woods.
"We had an awful job of getting out of there alive," Richard said.
He saw a ditch across a field.
"They hit the gas tank," he said. "We saw the gas running out. We knew we had to get out of there."
The soldiers left the glider through a side door. The pilot and co-pilot went out the front. The jeep and trailer were left behind. Richard didn't even have his backpack.
"It's a strange situation, seeing the ground hitting up around you," Richard said. "Unless you get hit it doesn't seem like much is going on."
He and the jeep driver stayed low. Each held their helmets low over their foreheads.
"He held his helmet like this," said Richard, pinching near his forehead as if he were going to tip his hat. "They hit his hand holding his helmet. I could see the blood."
They made for the ditch. The glider blew up.
The Germans "peppered after us all afternoon." In the evening the trooper from the glider went into the woods with the German rifles clipping off the bushes.
The medics' helmets, arms and glider were clearly marked with the Red Cross emblem, Richard said. Under the Geneva Convention, belligerents were not to fire on medics.
"They were shooting at us like we had rifles," said Richard, who was a qualified sharpshooter, but also unarmed.
Richard and the others joined up with American troops the next morning. The Jeep driver was sent to the hospital and Richard never saw him again.
The glider attack is credited with turning the battle, but the overall operation was unsuccessful in circumventing the German line.
"They dropped us in the midst of the Germans," Richard said. "They said you'd have no problems, that 700 bombers had obliterated the Germans. We didn't go anywhere for a month. We were surrounded. You needed big armored stuff to fight the Germans."
Battle of the Bulge
Richard helped tend the wounded during in the Ardennes-Alsace campaign during the Battle of the Bulge, the bloodiest battle fought by the U.S. during the war.
First aid stations patched up men and sent them to hospitals.
One man had his feet hanging on by threads which the surgeon snipped then discarded the feet, Richard recalled. Another had been shot through both eyes and the bridge of his nose, and complained that he could not see. Everyone knew he'd never see again.
"It was a miserable situation," Richard said. "The weather was so foggy and cold. There was snow on the ground."
A seven-hour truck ride took 27 hours. Trucks didn't use headlights so planes could not spot them.
American soldiers had winter coats, but no galoshes to keep their leather boots dry in the subfreezing temperatures. "A lot of guys got frozen feet," he said. "We couldn't make a fire. It wasn't allowed."
Although the British we allowed to make a fire for a spot of tea, he said.
"It was a terrible waste of men and equipment," Richard said. "It's an ugly way to settle an argument. They 'd just send more troops in to get killed. You'd get another group. I was lucky. I was almost killed six times. I never got hurt though.
"They teach you to protect yourself. You have to use your knowledge to stay out of the line of fire, but that doesn't protect you from artillery shells coming in overhead."
Richard left the military on Nov. 17, 1945. Unable to find a job in New Jersey, he went to the Pentagon employment office which found him a position in Frankfurt, Germany. After a couple of years he returned to the states and continued working as a civilian for the Army in New Jersey. He married Brenda, whom he had met in South Carolina before the war. They started a family.
Eventually he moved with his job to Letterkenny Army Depot and retired after 30 years of government service.
Mark Methner applied for his father's Legion of Honor medal in April 4, 2013. Approvals took more than a year.
"We were counting the months and hoping nothing would happen," he said. "It made us think more deeply about (his experience.) It's nice it this could happen so he could appreciate it."