Pvt. Dan Hartnett jumped with 82nd Airborne in largest action in World War II

Dan Hartnett of the Sanctuary condominiums in Cape Haze, Fla. looks at a newspaper story and map his mother saved for him about the largest airborne action in World War II that he took part in as a member of the 82nd Airborne Division. Sun photo by Don Moore

“WITH AMERICAN AIRBORNE FORCES, in Germany, March 24, 1945 — The greatest single airborne operation in all history was successfully launched east of the Rhine shortly before noon today by cooperating British and American forces.
“Tonight thousands of Allied paratroopers, using hundreds of tons of equipment and supplies brought in by gliders, are fighting bitterly on the far bank of the Rhine in the area of battered Wesel, Germany to link up with British and American assault troops who crossed the river in boats earlier,” wrote Frederick Graham in a New York Times story published in the Newark, N .J., Sunday Call newspaper.

Eighty year-old Dan Hartnett, who lives in the Sanctuary condominium complex in Cape Haze, Fla. was a 20-year-old private in the 82nd Airborne Division at the time. He took part in this combat jump 60 years ago along with thousands of other Allied paratroopers.

Hartnett flew in one of the lead C-47 transport planes that came in low and slow over the drop zone, surprising the German defenders on the ground. Altogether, some 1,500 planes and gliders took part in this first major airborne attack on “The Fatherland.”

When he arrived in France, shortly after D-Day on June 6, 1944, he was attached to the 100th Infantry Division. After reaching La Havre and disembarking from the ocean liner that brought them from the United States to the war front, Hartnett joined the 82nd Airborne.

It was partly the allure of being a paratrooper and partly the extra $50 per month “jump pay” each paratrooper received that made him decide to go airborne. In five days, after five practice jumps, he got his airborne wings. He was officially a member of the elite 82nd Airborne Division.

Hartnett was in France in time for the “Battle of the Bulge,” the biggest and the last major German offensive on the Western Front during World War II, that began in mid-December 1944 and lasted for about a month. He and the other members of the 82nd were unceremoniously driven from Le Havre most of the way to the battle in the back of Army trucks.

“For the last day and a half, we were dropped off and walked in the cold and the snow to the battle zone. We arrived there in the middle of the night and they told us to shovel ourselves a hole,” he said. “About the best we could do was dig an indentation because the ground was frozen.

“I recall putting my raincoat down in the impression I had dug and sleeping in my G.I. overcoat. We had no blankets and I was cold as hell all night long,” Hartnett said. “The next morning they called us together. We were at “The Bulge” for maybe 1 1/2 days and never saw any dead Germans.”

He didn’t see any combat until he made his first and only combat jump in late March 1945. The 82nd Airborne was at an airport somewhere in Belgium when American and British forces decided to attack across the Rhine River into Germany.

Hartnett and his three best buddies in the service were about to get aboard a C-47 transport plane to make the biggest combat jump of World War II when the other three were ordered to get in a C-46 transport. The C-46 transport was behind the plane Hartnett climbed aboard. He never saw any of them alive again.

“As we neared the drop zone, we were told to stand up and hook the static line of our parachutes to the cable running down the center of the compartment of the C-47 we were in,” he said. “Since we were in one of the lead planes, there was little enemy flak coming up at us from anti-aircraft guns on the ground.

“When I hit the ground, I couldn’t see anyone from the 82nd around me. It was every man for himself for the first hour after we landed. It was just me, my Thompson sub machine gun, five clips of ammunition and the Germans,” he recalled.

The enemy was firing small arms at him from behind a wall, possibly 200 yards away. Hartnett estimates there was maybe a company of Germans behind the wall firing in his direction although he never saw them.

“My backside was hugging the ground. I was behind a tree stump about as big around as I was, trying to keep out of enemy fire,” the former airborne trooper recalled.

Within an hour the sky above him was full of planes and paratroopers. The Germans, who had been shooting at him, had withdrawn in the face of overwhelming Allied firepower. In the afternoon he hooked up with the rest of his unit and they began to advance farther into Germany.

“We were behind a 10-foot high embankment with a dirt road on the top when these guys in a light tank drove right down the road in front of me,” he said. “The Germans were holed up in a house a few hundred yards in front of us. As the tank approached the house they hit it with a rocket of some kind and disabled it.

“As the first poor guy in the knocked-out tank tried to bail out the top, they machine-gunned him and they did the same thing to the second guy, too,” Hartnett said. “I don’t know what happened to the rest of the guys in the tank.

“We started throwing artillery shells at the house where the Germans were and they stopped firing at us. We either killed them or they ran out the back door,” he said.

Six weeks later the war in Europe was over on V-E Day, May 8, 1945. Hartnett came home and went on with his life. After retiring he and his wife, Jean, moved to the Sanctuary, which is south of Englewood, five years ago.

Puffing on his corn cob pipe, Dan Hartnett of Cape Haze might have been the famous World War II general’s younger brother. Sun photo by Don Moore

Dan Hartnett took part in three major campaigns during World War II as a member of the 82nd Airborne Division: the Ardennes, Central Europe and the Rhineland.

He was awarded: the European, African, Middle Eastern Service Medal with bronze arrowhead, the Good Conduct Medal, the American Service Medal and the World War II Victory Medal.

This story first appeared in the Charlotte Sun, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Sunday, Nov. 6, 2005 and is republished with permission.

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Daniel J. Hartnett , 83, of Englewood, Fla., passed away Wednesday, June 18, 2008.

He was born Feb. 17, 1925, in Newark, N.J.

Daniel served in the U.S. Army during World War II. He and his beloved wife, Jean, moved to Englewood in 1993 from New Jersey.

He will be deeply missed by his wife of 61 years, Jean; daughter, Susan (Walter) Rice of Whitehouse, N.J.; sons, Michael (Marie) Hartnett of Rotonda West, Fla., and John (Laurie) Hartnett of Silverton, N.J.; grandchildren, Heather, Jennifer, Matthew, Daniel, John, Danielle and Ryan; and great-grandchildren, John and Bryan.

A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Monday, June 23, 2008, at St. Francis of Assisi, 5265 Placida Road, Grove City, Fla. The family requests no flowers.

Arrangements were made in Port Charlotte, Fla.


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