Bill Lane was a WWII Glider Pilot who flew two combat missions into German held territory. His tow planes were shot down both times when he was still short of his landing zones and he was wounded when his glider was hit during the second mission. His experience carrying 101st Airborne Division troops into Eindhoven on Operation Market Garden closely mirrored scenes from the movie “A Bridge Too Far.” This is his story.

William C. Lane was born in Greer, in the middle of “the Upcountry” of South Carolina in 1920. He grew up and attended public schools there and then enlisted in the Army, entering active duty May 27, 1938. He was assigned to the 4th Coast Artillery Regiment, stationed on the Pacific side of the Panama Canal Zone. When his initial 2-year term of service was about to expire, he re-enlisted for the Army Air Corps; and the pace of his life picked up dramatically.

In July 1940 he was ordered to Maxwell Field, at Montgomery, Alabama and then to Gunter Field, also at Montgomery, for six months. In January 1941 he was sent to the Airplane and Engine Mechanics School at Chanute Army Air Field at Rantoul, Illinois where he graduated in September. He then was ordered to Cochran Field at Macon, Georgia where he served several months as an instructor in airplane mechanics for a group of British students in training as Royal Air Force pilots.

From Macon, Georgia, he was sent to Crookston, Minnesota for Primary Flight Training. The training was done by civilian contractors at the city airport. Bill and the other trainees were quartered in dormitories on the campus of Northwestern Minnesota School of Agriculture. He graduated in August 1942, and then spent a short time awaiting his next course assignment in the Holding Detachment at Randolph Field, Texas, before being sent to Pittsburg, Kansas for training in dead-stick landings. After that, he again briefly awaited his next training assignment in a students holding pool in Stuttgart, Arkansas before attending Basic Glider Training at Mobile, Alabama in late 1943. From there he was sent to South Plains Army Air Field at Lubbock, Texas for schooling in Cargo Gliders, training on the CG-4A “Waco” glider. William Lane graduated in February 1944, received his glider pilot wings and his appointment as a Flight Officer.

His first assignment as a glider pilot was at Bergstrom Field at Austin, Texas where he was an instructor for six months. In August 1944 Bill was among a group of pilots levied for overseas assignment, sent to Fort Wayne, Indiana and flown to England, priority 1-A, by air transport.

The 9th Troop Carrier Command had been formed within the 9th Air Force for the mission of transporting Army personnel and equipment from England across the channel to France in support of the invasion of the continent. F/O Bill Lane was assigned to the 81st Troop Carrier Squadron, 436th Troop Carrier Group, 53rd Troop Carrier Wing of the Troop Carrier Command, and they were stationed at Membury in West Berkshire. Bill had arrived two months after the airborne operation the night before the D-Day landings in Normandy, but it would be only a few weeks before the next major airborne assault.

On September 17, 1944, Operation “Market Garden” began and, for his part, Bill Lane was piloting a glider load of thirteen men of the 101st Airborne Division. They had nearly reached their Landing Zone (LZ) at Eindhoven in Holland when their C-47 tow plane was hit by ground fire. Bill says, “I radioed the pilot that he had been hit in the right wing tank and there were flames running the length of his aircraft, engulfing the rear of the fuselage, including the towing assemble and tow rope. He immediately ordered his crew to jump and told me he would get me to the LZ by climbing from our normal altitude of 600 feet up to 1,300 feet (with the “Waco’s” 8-to-1 glide ratio that would get me into the landing zone). Quickly up to that altitude, we cut loose from the tow plane and the pilot jumped from his burning aircraft. He pulled the ripcord, but his parachute never opened and he “streamered in.” I could only watch as he fell to his death. What seemed like only moments later, I brought the glider down safely into the LZ.”

The 101st Airborne troops soon secured the bridge over the Wilhelmina Canal, and held it until the British 30th Corps reached them the next day on their drive toward the Rhine River Bridge at Arnhem. Glider pilots in the LZ take their orders from the ground commander until the tactical situation allows for their evacuation, and Bill got to spend two days guarding German prisoners before being evacuated to Brussels and then flown back to England to his base at Membury.

Flight Officer William Lane was wounded on the U.S. Army’s last combat airborne operation of the war, the daylight insertion of the 17th Airborne Division across the Rhine River on March 24, 1945. Again, he had his tow plane shot down when approaching the objective. Bill says, “When we were crossing the Rhine River my C-47 tow plane was hit by 20mm and then a 20mm shell hit the nose of my glider. I took a fragmentation wound to my right foot and the co-pilot was wounded with blood streaming down his face. Much of the front of the glider had been blown away and one of the structural members was broken, but it still held together and still responded to the controls. The C-47 had lost an engine and was losing altitude rapidly, so we cut both gliders loose from the tow plane sooner than planned. The tow plane then turned and was able to get back across the Rhine and land at an airstrip in friendly territory. Meanwhile, I managed to bring the glider down into the landing zone north of Wesel, Germany with no one on board injured except for myself and the co-pilot being wounded.”

His was one of two glider loads of troops that quickly seized the bridge in their LZ. Hours later, after the situation had developed further, Bill was making his way down an irrigation ditch toward an Aid Station when he ran upon the troops that had been aboard his glider. The lieutenant in charge told him there were four Tiger Royal Tanks on the far side of a nearby farmhouse and they were waiting for them to make a move. The glider infantry troops subsequently destroyed three of the German panzers. Earlier, back at the airfield when they had been loading his glider, Bill had asked the lieutenant about two unusual looking equipment bags and was abruptly warned that was classified. Now he found out they had been carrying new “super bazookas” into battle for the first time and they proved to be deadly against the heavily armored Tiger tanks. Some time later Bill had reached the Aid Station where his wound was treated. There was an IPW (interrogation-prisoner of war) cage that was collocated with the Aid Station and several of those surviving German tank crewmen had been brought in for interrogation. The bewildered POW’s kept asking what new artillery the airborne had that could knock out their Tiger tanks.

Because the entire airhead was under enemy observation and subject to coming under fire, the wounded had to be held at the Aid Station all through the daylight hours. After darkness fell Bill was sent back across the Rhine on a “duck,” amphibious vehicle and was further evacuated to a hospital in Belgium. After brief hospitalization, he was returned back to the 81st Troop Carrier Squadron which was now based on Airfield A-55, at Melun / Villaroche, about 20 miles outside Paris. When he got back to base, Bill’s Operations Officer told him that the tow pilots had voted and they considered him a jinx. He had been on two missions, his tow planes had been shot down both times, and they would not tow him again. To that he said, “I never argued, but wondered what they thought they were there for.”

The war was rapidly nearing its end and with no more deep penetration airborne operations likely for the glider force, Bill volunteered for the transport planes. He then flew a number of missions as co-pilot of a C-47. He says, “We hauled gas up to General Patton in the forward area and then brought out wounded on the flight back. On one mission we were so far forward that the landing field was still under fire. German prisoners were being used to unload the plane and they told us there were some gliders in one of the buildings there. We found three gliders still in their packing crates with markings as property of the Luftwaffe. Actually, it would be more accurate to describe them as sport model sail planes rather than military gliders. With some difficulty we loaded them into our plane and brought them back to our base at Melun. They were assembled and the pilots enjoyed using them for recreational flying. All us glider pilots knew to use up excess altitude circling near the airfield, but the C-47 guys often tended to stray too far from the field and would have to land someplace and then find their way back home.”

An earlier mission of another type had led to my biggest adventure in France. The Army’s light planes, the liaison aircraft, arrived by ship in England where they would be assembled. Glider pilots would fly those planes across the channel to an airfield at Chartres, France where Army liaison pilots would come to pick up replacement aircraft. When piloting one of those planes to France another plane clipped the rudder of my plane and also damaged the left wing of another aircraft upon making an unscheduled landing at Le Harve. We would have been stuck there, but; being a trained aircraft mechanic, I got special permission to remove the rudder from F/O Reed’s plane and install it on my own. Repairs completed, we continued on to our destination in Chartres. There was six inches on snow and ice on the airstrip at Chartres and I was lucky to have landed safely (the way bush pilots do it, by locking the brakes before touching down and skidding to a stop). There was absolutely no possibility for planes to take off from there again for a very long time. Luckily for us, the Red Ball Express was then running through there so we went up to the main highway, got one of the trucks to stop for us, and caught a ride into Paris. We really were not supposed to be in Paris, as Paris was Off Limits to American military personnel at that time, and we nearly had an unfortunate encounter with a Colonel who introduced himself as Provost Marshall of the Paris Area. However, we were in our flight suits, those all looked the same, and he was impressed by our claim that we were P-51 pilots who had been shot down and were making our way back to England. He directed me to a British Pay Officer who advanced me $100, a handsome sum on the pay scale of a Flight Officer at the time. We lived well on that money for three days, while awaiting the weather to clear so that we could get back to England. Upon reporting back, it first appeared that we were in deep trouble with my Commander, but as he was speaking I placed a bottle of Chanel No. 5 in the middle of his desk. That perfume had been hard for me to get in Paris and it was impossible to get anywhere else at the time. He looked down at the bottle and stopped talking. We were dismissed without further comment, and they never did catch up to taking the $100 out of my pay either.

After V-E Day, I was not about to volunteer to remain in the service. Having seven years of active duty I had plenty of points and in August 1945 it was my turn to go home. I was sent to Le Harve by train and scheduled to go out on a Victory Ship that had been fitted out as a troop transport. The captain of that ship was determined to set a new speed record for that class of vessel in crossing the Atlantic, but that was not to be. The weather turned bad, slowing us down and it turned out that it took us more than a week. I was sent to the Eastern Overseas Replacement Depot in Greensboro, North Carolina for separation. The Greensboro installation was crowded with a backlog of men all impatiently awaiting their turn to be discharged, so an offer was made that anyone having an automobile would be permitted to transport themselves to a less-populated installation where the separation process could be speeded up. I had my own car and I took three other men with me and drove up to Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania. After just a couple of days there I had my discharge and was on my way home to Arkansas.

After three years of civilian life in North Arkansas (while remaining in the reserves), William Lane decided to return to the military. He says, “I went back in as an enlisted man, I had 7 years in and could retire with only 13 more. Being a MSgt Maintenance Supervisor had been my life-long ambition. I guess you could say I would rather work on planes than fly them. I was based in Japan during the Korean War, maintaining C-46s that provided courier service and hauled freight in and out of Korea. During Vietnam, I was the maintenance supervisor for a squadron of F-4s that did battle over North and South Vietnam. My last assignment, for years 26 to 30, was as Chief Master Sergeant and Maintenance Supervisor of the Field Maintenance Squadron at Little Rock, Arkansas. I retired from there in 1971 (and at the same time was retired from the reserves in the grade of Major, having declined consideration for promotion to Lt Col). I had loved every minute of it and was not ready to retire when I did. The Army and Air Force were good for me, but it (the military) is not for everyone.

Bill moved to Texas in 1974. He is an active member of the National World War II Glider Pilots Association and has recently served as the North Texas State Commander of that organization of distinguished veterans of WWII. He devoted much work to one of the goals of the association; that of establishing a permanent home for a museum telling the story of the WWII glider force. That was accomplished with the opening of the Silent Wings Museum in Lubbock, Texas in 2002 on the site of the former South Plains Army Airfield where CG-4A, “Waco” glider training had taken place – go and see it for yourself. He has also been a Life Member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart since 1994, and Texas Capital Chapter 1919 now proudly salutes Patriot William C. Lane.

Patriot William C. “Bill” Lane died January 14, 2014 in Knoxville, Tennessee after a brief illness and is survived by his wife Patsy.