Sergeant Bob Bearden, H Company, 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment, Invaded Behind The Lines On D-Day

by Daniel Russ on September 15, 2009

Sgt. Robert L Bearden, 507 Parachute Infantry regiment, Attached to the 82nd Air Borne

Sgt. Robert L Bearden, 507 Parachute Infantry regiment, Attached to the 82nd Air Borne

Sergeant Bob Bearden was a squad leader of a mortar squad, H Company, 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment, which was attached to the 82nd Airborne Division in World War II and made its first combat jump in Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

(Entire article is excerpted from his book: To D-Day And Back. Adventures With The 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment And Life As A WWII POW)

The 507th had a somewhat different experience than the other Allied airborne units in the Normandy invasion. The 507th flew from airbases further north in England than any of the other parachute regiments participating in D-Day. As a result, they arrived over Normandy two hours later than other airborne units, a fact which abolished the element of surprise on which airborne units depend, and gave the well-entrenched Germans ample time to prepare for their arrival.  Massive anti-aircraft fire and dense cloud banks encountered over the Normandy coast caused the 507th to have the worst drop of any of the airborne units participating in Normandy. Most sticks completely missed their drop zones and ended up stranded as individuals or in small groups in totally unknown territory. In addition, their drop zone and surrounding low-lying marshes had been flooded by the Germans, who manipulated locks to make the Merderet River overflow its banks, causing many of the heavily overloaded 507 troopers to drown before they got out of their chutes.

Bob Bearden was luckier than most of his fellow 507 troopers, in that he was able to assemble two of the other members of his mortar squad, and find his H Company Commander, Captain Taylor, shortly after his drop. “Taylor’s group,” however, consisting of about 40 to 50 paratroopers from various units, has never been written about, although they made up one of four important fragmented groups of troopers in the 507 area who had been misdropped, and struggled to rejoin each other, while disrupting the enemy and attempting to overcome severely challenging obstacles in an unknown terrain.

The first action of the group was to take the small town of Fresville, which they held for several hours at the same time the 505 PIR was liberating Ste. Mere Eglise. When the Germans returned in force in Fresville with tanks on the afternoon of D-Day, Taylor and his men had to abandon the town, and sought to recross the flooded Merderet River in the attempt to join their regimental commander, Col. Millett, who had assembled approximately 200 men, but was entirely surrounded by heavily armed Germans.

The story of their struggles and ultimate success in reaching “Millett’s Group” has never been told. Bob Bearden was the first to break into Millett’s area, in a stupendously brave action which left 20 Germans dead in his wake, and paved the way for the rest of Taylor’s group to join their regimental commander. The story of Millett’s surrender is an important piece of the Normandy puzzle, but again, it has never been told in print or on film.

Bearden was a privileged participant in the activities on D+2 in Millett’s group, and the actions they took when ordered by General Gavin to join yet another 507th fragmentary group in “Timme’s orchard” on the other side of La Fière Causeway.  The column of nearly 400 men left Millet’s area on D+3, but fatigue, snipers, the blackness of night, and enemy attack caused the column to fragment.

Colonel Millet, at the head of the column, never made it to Timme’s orchard. He was captured by the Germans with several of his men, but his story has never been published. Bob Bearden was one of the men captured with Millett, who was probably the highest-ranking U.S. paratrooper the Germans captured in Normandy. Millett’s men were out of ammunition and overwhelmingly outnumbered. Bearden was lying just a few feet from his Commander, hidden in a hedgerow, when the order to surrender was given.

Bob Bearden, like the rest of the men with whom he was captured, became a Prisoner of War. He first spent time in a make-shift camp in Alençon, France (Lower Normandy), before being moved into Poland via Stalag XIIA (Limburg, Germany, where POWs were processed and received Red Cross recognition), Stalag IVB (Muhlburg, Germany, a British-run POW camp), and finally Stalag IIIC (Kustrin, Germany (Poland), a camp for American NCOs just on the other side of the Oder River). Bearden remained in IIIC until the Russians “liberated” the camp on their drive to Berlin in late December 1945.

Bob Bearden’s story is both representative and very unique. The 507th, unlike the 505th and the 504th, and most other regiments which participated in D-Day, never had a chance to fight as a regiment. Although they contributed valiantly to the success of the Normandy campaign, and most especially to the epic battle at La Fière Bridge (which S.L.A. Marshall called “probably the bloodiest small arms battle” in World War II), members of the regiment fought piecemeal, or in small mixed groups composed of several different units, often and led by commanders they had never trained with, and did not, in fact, know.  Although just over 2,000 507th troopers dropped on D-Day, only 700 left France when the regiment returned to England a month later, at the end of the Normandy campaign.

Until recently, the 507 was known as the “forgotten regiment.” Much interest in the regiment, however, is not afoot: scholarly works, a regimental history, a documentary, and a number of individual memoirs and other works have recently been released

Pity The Fool Who Would Go Up Against This Spry 87 Year Old Veteran

Pity The Fool Who Would Go Up Against This Spry 87 Year Old Veteran

The Battle for Fresville

Upon arriving on the east bank of the river, Captain Taylor and I discussed how to use our 60mm mortars on the German troops in Fresville, in preparation for taking the village. By that time, I had access to two mortars. We decided to fire them both close to the church in the center of the village, trusting that the civilians would stay inside and not be hit.

Taylor took his 30 to 40 men and headed up the two narrow sandy roads leading toward Fresville. Meanwhile, I climbed a tall tree so I could get a good view of the village, which was somewhat uphill from our position down at the edge of the swamp. We set up our mortars in a field below the tree, with Duck and Fred manning them.

We had practiced so many set-up and firing drills in Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Nebraska, Ireland and England that our first mortar rounds were right on target. I used the church steeple as a reference point and tried to keep our rounds on either side of the church. In this we were successful. Duck and Fred were so well trained that getting six rounds of ammunition in the air before the first one landed was no trouble. The first round had no sooner exploded than ten more rounds burst on target.

All across Normandy, German units were trying to figure out if every band of our troops they encountered actually represented an invasion force. During this initial period, the Allies were able to get established on the beaches, and thus the operation was successful. It is said that if the Germans had properly freed their great reserves to attack us all in the early stages of the landings, we might well have failed. At the least, we would have paid a much greater price for victory than was the painful case. We had been told back in England that causalities would be very high, and we believed it.

As I watched our troops move up the pair of roads leading into Fresville, I determined when we needed to quit firing the mortars to avoid hitting our own men. As soon as that time arrived, I climbed down the tree and our two abbreviated mortar squads raced up the road to get some of the action. I can’t believe as I recall this that we would actually hurry to get shot at, but that was the sort of tiger blood that flowed through our veins in those days.

The battle in Fresville involved house to house combat, which is very spooky. The problem with attacking in this type of military operation is that the enemy knows the territory, but you are learning the city as you go along. There is not much “pucker time” as you kick open the doors. Fortunately, we had practiced infantry tactics in every form for over two years, including working from house to house, so our losses were not that bad in view of the potential.

Because we were providing covering fire for Captain Taylor and the rest, Duck, Fred, and I were late in getting into Fresville and the fight. We ran up the left branch into town, and had one minor scrap as we came up the road from the river. When we passed the spot we had been shooting at, we discovered two dead Germans. We assumed that they were the only enemy missed by Taylor’s group as they passed in route to Fresville.

Our troopers had run into considerable resistance from German infantry soldiers stationed in the village, but by the time we got to the church, the Krauts had been run out of town. When we arrived, only scattered small arms fire could be heard in the outskirts of the village.


Thank you Karen for sharing this with us. Thank you Sergeant for your service. Let us never forget this incredible story and the name of this man who is one of the Greatest Generation.

Also, Buy the Book.


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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeanne Kennedy August 9, 2010 at 8:08 pm

This is written so well that I am still crying….although
my father has long pasted, I remember as a teenager that he would only talk about the war to one for his friends, that was also there with him. Now, I know why he never talked about it.
Mom pasted away recently and for some reason that I can’t figure out, there is no pictures of my father from the war.

Lawrence (Larry)J. Kennedy Serial # 12022398
Enlisted Brooklyn NY 01/20/41 Panama Canal
Branch Chemical Warfare Service
Date of Seperation 9/1945 Staff Sgt. 507th PIR “H” Co.

Will buy the book, but I can’t seem to find him on any rooster…

Jeanne Kennedy

Jeanne Kennedy August 9, 2010 at 8:09 pm

Maybe you remember him.
Jeanne Kennedy

Daniel Russ August 9, 2010 at 9:35 pm

We will indeed remember

JOHN C DAVIS, MD July 18, 2012 at 4:16 pm

i knew bob at univ of texas. we both waited on tables at littlefield dorm. bob was one of the cheerleaders for the longhorns. he told us a few stories about his service, but the book was wonderful. i’d recommend it to anyone interested in WW2..

T Bearden May 21, 2019 at 5:21 pm

Bob passed one day before his 93rd Birthday. His life was a wild ride. From emptying thunder buckets in his young days, golden glove boxer, 82nd. Airborne, student at U T Austin to a self employed businessman. But the most important thing he would tell you is that Jesus was his Lord and Savior. He passed at home knowing he was on yet another wild ride. Truly living forever.
RIP Dad.

Nathan Keith June 6, 2019 at 9:23 am

My grandfather was Wilson “Duck” Keith. Bob’s book, and him personally reaching out to my family over the years, answered a lot of questions for us, and meant more than anyone could imagine. My grandfather was never the same after the war and being a POW, and died young.

Christopher Sanborn June 6, 2019 at 2:36 pm

Thank you for sharing. Bob’s wonderful book allowed our family to get to understand our grandfather Wilson “Duck” Keith’s (or Stub back home in NH) participation in the war. Amazing what these young boys did. Hopefully our country never forgets.

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