Gliding into Normandy, 80 Years Later, Part II: Bennie Matlock

The invasion of Normandy began 80 years ago on June 6, 1944, with the risky and unprecedented Allied landings from the air and sea, known as “D-Day.” In addition to the beach landings of amphibious craft, and the airborne troops who parachuted behind enemy lines, minimally supplied and scattered from each other, supplies and troops landed courtesy of newly-minted gliders and glider pilots. The Bossier Parish Libraries History Center is fortunate to have oral history interviews with two Bossier veterans who landed on D-Day, silently and partially under cover of dark and clouds, in motorless, propellor-less glider planes, glider pilot James “Jim” Larkin, who was featured in last week’s article, and Bennie Matlock. They both were serving the same objective, to take from the Germans the town of Sainte-Mère-Église, a small but key location on the road to the major port of Cherbourg.



Bennie Matlock was born in northern Bossier Parish, grew up in the hamlet of Walker’s Chapel and graduated from Plain Dealing High School in 1936. He served in the 307th Airborne Engineer Battalion, part of the 82nd Airborne Division, and trained as a glider paratrooper. In the invasion of Normandy, on D-Day, he was in the battalion’s Company A, created to support the 325 Glider Infantry Regiment.



Private Matlock arrived in Sainte-Mère-Église by glider in the wee hours of June 6th, before troops had even begun arriving on the nearest beach, Utah. Mr. Matlock reminisced about that morning, “What I remember most is flying over the English Channel. Talk about ships, looked like you could walk on ships, all across the English Channel. [The] finest sight ...”


The first element of the main body of the 82nd Airborne Division jumped at 0151 hours, 30 minutes after Pathfinder teams marked the drop zone. By 0312 hours all paratroopers had landed, and at 0404 hours the first of 52 gliders in the initial glider group crash-landed around Sainte-Mère-Église. Unlike Mr. Larkin, who was piloting the last of those 52 gliders and whose tow plane hit flak (German anti-aircraft fire), causing his glider to land well outside the landing zone, Mr. Matlock landed in Sainte-Mère-Église, and instantly found himself at battle. He recalled, “The first thing that I looked for when I got on the ground was a hole or a ditch or something until I could find out what was going on around me. It was just automatic, self-preservation.” He then began fighting Germans at close range with his M-1 rifle.




He remembered, “Part of our outfit [paratroopers] hung on the steeple and pretended to be dead until we ran the Germans out and got them down.” The action was so intense, he pointed out, that television shows and movies were made about the 82nd Airborne in Normandy, including an episode of the popular mid-twentieth century game show, “To Tell the Truth,” and the book and movie, “The Longest Day.” On June 7th at noon, reinforcement troops who had landed on Utah Beach arrived to clear Sainte-Mère-Église, making it the first town liberated in the Normandy Invasion from the Nazis. Amazingly, his company suffered only one casualty.


The glider itself was left where it was. Nicknamed flying coffins, and made of a steel frame (British glider frames were all wood, contributing to the coffin nickname), and sturdy fabric and wood, they were considered expendable, designed for 1 one-way trip, especially in Normandy, where very few gliders were recovered. Matlock said their orders were to burn the gliders after landing them, but they decided the smoke would give away their location. Instead, they left the gliders in the fields, to be grazed around by Norman cows.




After about thirty-two days in Normandy, Bennie and his group went back to England, where they were given a few days off then continued on the European airborne campaign – including Market Garden, in the Netherlands (the country where he earned a purple heart when Germans dropped a bomb that hit chow line), the Battle of the Bulge, and Anzio, Italy.


After the War, Bennie returned home, and resumed his pre-war job at International Paper. He married and had a son, Bennie R. Matlock, Jr. and stayed in the Plain Dealing-Springhill area. He passed away in 2011 at the age of 93.


After WWII, gliders were replaced by helicopters for dropping troops and supplies behind battle lines. If you want to learn more about the gliders and their pilots, check out the documentary film, “Silent Wings: The American Glider Pilots of WWII” through Kanopy, available online through the Bossier Parish Libraries website. Don’t forget to attend World War Tuesdays on the second Tuesday of the month from 10:30 – noon at the History Center. The next meeting is July 9th. The History Center is located at 2206 Beckett St, Bossier City, LA. We are open M-Th 9-8, Fri 9-6, and Sat 9-5. Our phone number is (318) 746-7717 and our email is


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  • Bennie R. Matlock, 1936. History Center photo, Plain Dealing HS Class of 1936
  • Types of Invasion Air Operations, courtesy of the National Museum of the USAF
  • Waco CG-4A military glider plane, courtesy National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution

Article by: Pam Carlisle