D-Day heroes: Clancy Lyall was one of the Band of Brothers
They Were a ‘Band of Brothers’ on a Rendezvous with Destiny
United States Army Airborne Veteran Recalls History’s Best Remembered Invasion over France
LEXINGTON PARK (June 5, 2005 – Updated June 6, 2018) – At just 18-years-old, Clancy Lyall evacuated the C-47 cargo plane over northeastern France, jumping into a shower of bullets and artillery that for many men became their last vision.
73 years have passed since Lyall made that fateful jump behind enemy German lines, to support the millions of American and Allied troops that were preparing to land on French beaches near Normandy. D-Day, June 6, 1944, the United States invasion marked the beginning of the end for the Nazi fascists.
Raised in Texas, Lyall turned 80 in October of 2006 when he was interviewed by ST. MARY’S TODAY. He is one of the “young” World War II veterans still living at the time.
In 1942, a month after his 16th birthday and with his mother’s permission, Lyall joined the Army. Of course, he could not let the Army know his true age, but no one questioned it because of his large size.
Barely a man, Lyall lit out for basic training in Florida. Shortly after, he was off to Fort Benning, Ga. for airborne school. There he joined the E-company, 506 Parachute Infantry, 101st Airborne Division, also known as the “Band of Brothers.”
Lyall’s division and millions of other American GI’s gathered on England’s main island for what would be the largest coordinated invasion in war history, Operation Overlord.
“A few more people and the island would have sunk,” Lyall said of the mass of troops.
Lyall was located at the Upottery Airfield, preparing for his first combat mission. Numerous airborne troops were to parachute and use gliders to land behind German lines in France and support the massive D-Day invasion.
Lyall and the 506 Parachute Division boarded massive C-47 cargo planes at about 12:05 a.m. June 6, 1944, and headed across the English Channel to France.
“It was the scariest two minutes of my life,” Lyall said during an interview with the ST. MARY’S TODAY. “It’s not the jump that scared me, it was all the artillery coming up at us. You could just about walk down on the flack.”
It was Lyall’s first combat mission and first jump under fire. In training, he already made more than a dozen jumps.
Things didn’t go exactly as planned that decisive night. Many of the C-47 pilots never flew in a combat mission, and four were shot down before the men had a chance to jump.
“We lost four planes as soon as we crossed the channel,” Lyall said. “I ran out of that plane.”
The transport planes were flying lower, and faster than planned, making the jump more dangerous. Lyall said that danger was minor, compared to the mass of artillery and glowing tracer rounds seeming to come out of the ground.
Because of the increased speed, many men lost equipment as soon as they hit the air. When Lyall landed, he had his M-1 rifle, a canteen of water and boot knife. Most everything else was lost.
One item all airborne troops carried was nicknamed a “cricket.” It was a small clicking device that would allow troops to identify each other from a distance. One click was to be responded with two clicks.
When on the ground, the sound of a Nazi pulling back the action of their rifle sounded too much like the “crickets.”
During the drop, men were scattered, sometimes miles away from the designated landing spot. It took days for troops to organize, but men formed smaller groups of combined divisions and completed their missions. The airborne soldiers were to destroy bridges and secure roads leading back to France’s beaches, where more than 150,000 troops were landing in the largest amphibious assault in history.
The assault on five beaches, each with the code name Omaha, Utah, Sword, Gold, and Juno, stretched 50 miles.
Those involved remember the massive numbers in the armada coming across the English Channel made it seem like one could walk across the channel back to England.
When Lyall landed, he hooked up with a fellow American and hid under a footbridge, while Nazi paratroopers crossed right above them. Then more guys came out of the sky. In all, 20,000 men were planned to land by parachute or glider, which Lyall remembers were nicknamed “flying coffins.”
He joined the rest of the 2nd battalion near the town of Carentan, where he was later wounded during a gunfight. He was shot through “the fleshy part” of his leg while moving through the town. Before that injury, Lyall hurried around a corner and literally walked into a Nazi’s bayonet. Luckily, the tip punctured his gut only an inch or so.
While laid up in a medical facility on Hobart Street, Carentan, Lyall remembers the sweet smells coming over from the bakery next door and “a little kid running around” that turned out to be the baker’s son. While he never met the boy’s father, Lyall formed a friendship with that little kid that lasted a lifetime.
Lyall has visited Normandy numerous times since the war, most recently last year to make the 60th anniversary of D-Day. Every time he visited, he met up with that “kid,” who is now an old man, still in the same bakery.
Lyall’s military career continued for another 15 years after D-Day, completing two more combat jumps during the Korean War, and earning the rank of Master Sergeant before retiring.
Lyall said it was “pure luck” if you came out of the war alive, and it was pure luck that helped allies succeed.
“It’s refreshing,” to know the freedoms men fought for 61 years ago are still remembered, he said.
Lyall often speaks to students in schools about the war, and the number one question is, “did you kill people?”
“The one thing about combat, as a GI, while you’re there you’re scared to death. And the rest of the time you’re bored to death,” he said.
Among the more than 150 men in Lyall’s unit that were known as the “band of brothers,” only 13 remain in 2005.
Editor’s Note: Clarence Odell “Clancy” Lyall, 86 of Lexington Park, MD died March 19, 2012 at St. Mary’s Hospital in Leonardtown, Maryland and instead of being buried in a National Cemetery, chose a final resting place at Evergreen Memorial Gardens, in Great Mills, Md., not far from where he lived the last several decades of his life.
Born October 14, 1925 in Orange, TX, he was the son of the late Arthur Edward Lyall and Beulah (Mitchell) Lyall.
Clancy is survived by his wife Isabel (DaSilva) Lyall; his children, Wayne Lyall (Gloria) of Round Rock, TX, Linda Fitzgerald (Tommy) of Brooksville, FL, Tonia J. Gibson of Lexington Park, MD, Roy C. Adams of Supply, NC, and Arthur E. Lyall (Julie) of Great Mills, MD; grandchildren, Valerie Lyall, Danielle Gibson, Chelsea Gibson, Cody Gibson, Mason Lyall, Sydney Lyall, Christina Adams, Faith Adams Helms; and great-grandchild Dylan Beaver. In addition to his parents, Clancy was preceded in death by his son, Ronald Lyall.
Clancy enlisted into the Army in 1942. He was assigned to the Second Battalion, 506 Regiment, 101st. Airborne Division. After fighting in Normandy, he was assigned to Easy Company in Aldbourne, England in 1944. In Holland he was involved in the liberation of Eindhoven. On March 15, 1945, the 101st. Airborne Division received the Presidential Unit Citation. This was the first citation given to an entire division. In November 1945, Easy Company, was de-activated, and Clancy was honorably discharged. He re-enlisted and was reassigned to B Company 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd. Airborne Division in Frankfurt, Germany. In 1950 he was assigned to the 187th. Parachute Infantry Regimental Combat Team. In 1955, he was assigned to E Company, 506th. Para Infantry Regiment, 101st. Airborne Division. During his military career he made four combat jumps and earned 25 decorations and citations that include the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal w/3 Bronze Service Stars and a Bronze Arrowhead, American Campaign Medal, Bronze Star Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Purple Heart, World War II Victory Medal and Belgian Fourragere. After his military career ended, Clancy was heavily involved in local organizations. He was the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2632 Commander, American Legion Post 255 Vice President, Lions Club (Ridge) President, President of Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge; and a member of the 40/8’s, Order of the Purple Heart, Disabled American Veterans, Fraternal Order of Police and Southern Maryland Veteran’s Advisory Board.