As a youngster, Robert Swain had a unique interest in flying. That attraction led Swain to a lifetime of enjoyment in the air, including flying missions on the Normandy D-Day landings and during the Battle of the Bulge that delivered lifesaving supplies and paratroopers during World War II.

Swain, 88, grew up in East Andover on a farm where his grandfather built Glover Machine Manufacturing in 1922, a company that produced wooden dowels out of rock maple. He still lives in that house.

He learned to fly when he was 19, at nearby Lone Mountain Airport. Those early experiences served him well during his time as a pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps, where 1st Lt. Swain provided a vital and significant role in support of the men on the ground throughout the war.

“When I was a teen, I always wanted to fly,” he said. “We had no idea what we were getting into, when we were sent to Europe.”

Swain enlisted in June 1943, receiving a monthly sum of $21 that quickly jumped to $75 a month when he realized he could garner a pay raise by becoming a cadet. One year later, on the evening of D-Day, June 6, 1944, he was hauling gliders and dropping paratroopers for combat.

“We flew six missions behind the lines,” Swain said. “The rest of the time we were flying supply missions, two or three times a week. On our return trips we would bring back the wounded.”

For his participation in the D-Day invasion, Swain was awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation, which was renamed the Presidential Unit Citation in 1957. The blue bar is awarded for extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy on or after Dec. 7, 1941.

Swain also earned the Air Medal on four different occasions. The Air Medal is awarded to any person who, while serving in any capacity in or with the Armed Forces of the United States, distinguished themselves by meritorious achievement while participating in flight.

“I was there, right from D-Day, right up to the end in Paris for V-E Day,” Swain said. “I remember everyone was just really happy at the end.”

In 1943, Swain received his training at Fort Benning, Ga., eventually moving to Texas where he learned to fly the C47, receiving more than 500 hours of training in the process.

Assigned to the 78th Troop Carrier Squadron of the 435th, Swain and his crew were given orders to pick up a new C47 in Indiana and to meet up with the 435th, already in Europe.

“We didn’t travel with the squadron; we were all alone,” Swain said. “Just the one plane, flying for two weeks from Brazil to the Ascension Island to Africa to England.”

Before the invasion, Swain was part of a demonstration for Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, supreme commander of the Allied forces in Europe, and Sir Winston Churchill, prime minister of the United Kingdom.

“It was really something,” Swain said. “The sky was full of planes and paratroopers.”

In September 1944, the 435th participated in the air attack on Holland, dropping paratroopers of 82nd and 1st Airborne Divisions and releasing gliders carrying reinforcements. They moved to France in February 1945 for the airborne assault across the Rhine where each aircraft towed two gliders transporting troops and equipment to the east bank of the Rhine on March 24.

“When we pulled the gliders, we flew nose to tip,” Swain said. “I never thought much about what was going on; I was just happy to be flying.”

Over the past 15 years, Swain has started attending reunions in the United States, and recently met three men whom he had towed in gliders for drops at the Rhine. During one reunion in Washington, D.C., he received a citation from the consul general of France, Jean Pierre Allex-Lyoudi, expressing the gratitude of the French for the role Swain and his comrades played in D-Day.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.