I just love how compliant a person can become once you grant him his wish of “Shoot me, go ahead.” it’s like a magic bullet.
A 140 lbs. former newspaperman from New York, a cigar clenched in his teeth, was the tip of the spear for Operation Overlord.
Capt. Frank Lillyman, of the 101st Airborne’s Pathfinders, is credited as the first Allied soldier to parachute into France shortly after midnight on D-Day, June 6, 1944. He commanded the first “stick” – or unit – of Pathfinders that parachuted into Normandy, tasked with helping mark landing zones for the 13,100 paratroopers that would soon follow in the early morning darkness.
Medals, ribbons, and patches, including a Distinguished Service Cross and Purple Heart for Lillyman’s actions on D-Day, will be on offer at Rock Island Auction Company’s May 13-15 Premier Auction.
The medals of Capt. Frank Lillyman, credited as the first man in France on D-Day, include a Distinguished Service Cross and Purple Heart for his actions on D-Day, as well as his parachutist pins and Bronze Star. The array of medals from this member of the Greatest Generation is Lot 410 in Rock Island Auction Company’s May 13-15 Premier Auction.
Paratrooper after Recruiter
Lillyman grew up in the Southern Tier New York town of Binghampton where he worked for the local paper covering sports and working elections before joining the army in 1934. Serving in the infantry, he was stationed in China and Hawaii before returning to New York where he served as a recruiter in Syracuse.
Lillyman longed to join the fight with the start of World War II and became a paratrooper in 1942. He made 47 training jumps before his first combat jump into the dark Normandy night.
Following a disastrous paratroop mission in Sicily that scattered airborne soldiers over miles of terrain and limited their fighting effectiveness, it was determined that a lead force needed to be inserted that could guide the larger force to drop zones.
The Pathfinders were born.
Pathfinder missions were considered suicidal with a fatality rate of 80 to 90 percent. Many of the men who volunteered for the role were considered mavericks – insubordinates and undesirables who were trying to stay out of the brig or rehabilitate their service record.
Lillyman fit the bill, considered by at least one superior as an “arrogant smart-ass.”
While mavericks and insubordinates may not be the best in the regular army, they were just what the Pathfinders needed. That showed on June 6.
War Paint and Special Equipment
Many of the men in Lillyman’s stick put war paint on their faces for the nighttime jump. Some wore Mohawk haircuts.
The paratroopers carried special equipment to help guide the planes to the drop zones. First were the radio transponders, called Eurekas that transmitted to special receivers in the planes called Rebeccas. The Rebeccas calculated the range to the Eurekas based on the timing of the return signals and its position using a highly directional antenna. In the early hours of D-Day, Lillyman’s men placed the Eureka transmitters in a church steeple and in a tree. The second bit of special equipment were specially-designed lamps to show the jump zone.
Because of the extra equipment, many of the paratroopers ditched their reserve parachutes under their benches on the plane, going against procedure.
Might As Well Jump
Lillyman hurt his leg in training a few days prior to D-Day. He hid the injury and tried to ignore the pain so he would be able to lead his unit. He jumped with his signature unlit cigar held tightly in his teeth, carrying 70 lbs. of equipment and his Tommy gun.
“On my first jump I happened to have a cigar,” Lillyman explained. “So I’ve done it ever since. Now the boys attach a lot of importance to that cigar.”
The overcast sky troubled the plane’s pilot, missing landmarks on approach and coming in low. Lillyman and his squad missed their jump zone by about a mile, parachuting in from 450 feet. All but one of the Pathfinder units missed their jump zones that night.
Make the Best of It
When Lillyman landed he tried to determine his position. As he did, he spotted a shape off in the darkness. Was it moving toward him? He racked his gun only to find out he was targeting a cow.
Collecting his unit, Lillyman improvised a drop zone in a field deemed big and open enough. As the men set their equipment in place a machine gun barked at them in the dark. The captain sent two soldiers to take care of the nest.
The Pathfinders also reconnoitered a nearby farmhouse, learning a German officer was there. The owner pointed to where the man was asleep, a bottle of champagne on the nightstand. The soldiers dispatched the German and made off with the bubbly.
Lillyman and his men heard the planes of the main paratrooper force at 12:40 a.m., less than 30 minutes after they landed. The first plane flew over their position at 12:57 a.m. on D-Day.
The weather troubled the main force of paratroopers, too, scattering them across the peninsula. Despite the Pathfinders, only 10 percent of the U.S. airborne forces hit their drop zones and 50 percent of the troops landed one to two miles from their drop zones.
After setting up the improvised drop zone and guiding in their fellow paratroopers, they checked where reconnaissance aircraft had spotted a gun emplacement that could hammer Utah Beach. They discovered it bombed out.
Lillyman’s unit was called on to set up another drop zone but this time for the second wave of gliders. On the evening of D-Day, Lillyman’s unit waited for the gliders, code-named Keokuk, to arrive. The Germans were also waiting near the landing zone. As the gliders coasted in, the Germans opened fire.
Lillyman’s unit returned fire at the nearby German gun nest, forcing the Germans to withdraw. The captain heard one last burst of gunfire and felt the sting on his arm. He glanced down. His uniform was chewed up and blood pulsed out. His legs gave way. He fell to the ground as mortar splinters hit him in the face. His injuries would get him shipped back to England for convalescence.
After a couple days in the hospital, Lillyman was restless and ready to get back to the fight.
“I didn’t like the idea of staying in a hospital, so I found some clothes in a supply room and shoved off,” Lillyman said. “I forgot to tell anyone where I was going or what my intentions were, but after two days, I ended back here in France.”
He went absent from the hospital without permission, talked his way onto a supply ship, and by June 14 reported back to duty in France. That didn’t sit well with his commanding general who moved him to another unit. Lillyman was a pathfinder no more.
Market Garden and More
Lillyman, like his band of brothers in the 101st Airborne, still found plenty of action.
His unit jumped into the Netherlands as part of Operation Market Garden in September, 1944 fighting for roads and bridges. The 101st was caught up in the Battle of the Bulge and was “the hole in the doughnut” as the Germans laid siege to Bastogne in December, 1944. Lillyman and his comrades were pulled off the line in February, 1945.
Returned to the line in early April, Lillyman’s unit captured Berchtesgaden. As the war ended the paratroopers took up occupation duties and started training for deployment to the Pacific Theater. The war ended before the 101st Airborne could get to the Pacific.
Lillyman returned home having been wounded three times and wearing 12 decorations, including the Distinguished Service Medal for his D-Day leadership.
After The War
During a quiet moment, Lillyman wrote a fanciful letter to a New York City Hotel about his dream homecoming in October, 1945.
“I desire a suite that will face east so the sun will wake me in the morning,” he wrote. “I do not desire to know in advance what dishes will be served, but I do not want a dish repeated. If meals are served after dark in the suite, I would like tapers for table lighting. I desire a one‐way telephone—outgoing only.”
He showed up at the hotel with his wife, daughter, and $500. Hotel staff told him their stay was on the house.
Lillyman remained in the army, serving through the Korean and Vietnam Wars, holding a variety of assignments at Fort Bragg and Camp Breckenridge. He retired as a lieutenant colonel in 1968, and died three years later at the age of 55.
The Distinguished Service Cross and Purple Heart earned on D-Day as well as a Bronze Star, Belgian Croix de Guerre, and two French Croix de Guerres awarded in service to the Allied cause mark Capt. Frank Lillyman as a war hero and truly one of the Greatest Generation. Also included is a Combat Infantry badge, Master Parachutist Badge, and a scarce Pathfinder “winged torch” patch. The memorabilia available at Rock Island Auction’s May 13-15 Premier Auction shows the history and bravery of a man and his unit on D-Day, and someone who committed his life and career to the United States Army.
`First to Jump: How the Band of Brothers Was Aided by the Brave Paratroopers of Pathfinders Company,’ by Jerome Preisler
`First in France: The World War II Pathfinder Who Led the Way on D-Day, by Alex Kershaw, historynet.com
`Skaneateles Man, Captain Frank Lillyman, the First Soldier to Land on D-Day,’ Onondaga Historical Association
`Frank Lillyman Is Dead at 55; First Paratrooper at Normandy, The New York Times
`Airlift and Airborne Operations in World War II,’ by Roger E. Bilstein, Air Force History and Museums Program
Dawn broke crisply over the high elevation desert, chasing night’s shadow across sagebrush draws and sandstone outcroppings. A small brushy flat wrapped over the rim of a nearby canyon, fingers of sunshine just beginning to feel their way between sage and scrub oak. Sweeping the flat with my field glasses, I spotted a big buck, antlers towering above the sage. I ranged the distance, dialed my turret and settled in behind the scope. This was the moment I’d planned and prepared for months to meet.
A mature mule deer buck is considered one of the hardest animals in North America to harvest. To successfully find and kill a big buck you’ll need skill, the determination of a pit bull and good equipment. Shots in the wide-open arid country mule deer call home are commonly long, so you’ll need to hunt with something that can “reach out and touch ‘em.” Translated, you should hunt with a cartridge that’s accurate and maintains downrange energy well beyond “average” shot distances.
Mule deer are not hard to kill, but they are prone to soak up punishment from small(ish) calibers, acting undisturbed until they suddenly fall over dead. For that reason, I’ve left cartridges like the .243 Winchester off this list in favor of rounds that impact with more authority. Similarly, I’ve left away bigger calibers that deliver more recoil but don’t offer the ability to make a mule deer any more dead. Choose any of the cartridges featured below and you’ll be set to hunt mule deer anywhere they reside.
1. 6.5 PRC
For a dedicated deer-hunting cartridge, in my opinion, it’s pretty hard to top the 6.5 Precision Rifle Cartridge (PRC). Recoil is mild, accuracy is generally superb and retained downrange energy is outstanding. I have killed a handful of big muley bucks with the 6.5 PRC (including the one featured in the beginning of this article) and experienced impressive results every time. Shooting a .264-inch diameter bullet weighing in the 125- to 150-grain range and starting out around 2960 fps, the cartridge isn’t built to take out Sherman tanks, but rather to kill with accurate finesse.
2. .280 Ackley Improved
Were I to choose the ideal all-around cartridge for hunting Western big game it would be the .280 Ackley Improved. Why? Because it hits hard enough for moose but not too hard for deer and pronghorn, is very aerodynamic, sports a slender case that enables good magazine capacity, and owns the panache of James Bond. Recoil is firmer than the 6.5 cartridges but less than the 7mm Rem. Mag.
The .280 Ackley sends a .284-inch diameter 140- to 175-grain projectile downrange at velocities ranging from 2850 to 3150 fps. While it used to be a wildcat cartridge, Nosler, Hornady and Federal now build factory .280 Ackley Improved ammo. My personal widest mule deer fell to a rifle chambered in .280 AI; a beautiful buck sporting double cheater points that stretch his spread to just north of 34 inches.
3. 6.8 Western
The .270 Winchester should have been on this list, you say? You’ve got a point; the venerable .270 is an awesome mule deer cartridge. However, barrel twist rate is generally slow, necessitating light-for-caliber projectiles that smoke downrange at first, but lose steam later. Not to worry; the 6.8 Western will tag into the fray in its behalf. The “Western” shoots the exact same diameter bullet (.277-inch) as the .270 Win., but is designed to stabilize long, heavy-for-caliber projectiles that offer superb long-range performance.
Brand-new on the hunting cartridge scene, the 6.8 Western is rapidly gaining popularity in the hunting field. It’s new enough that I personally have not killed a muley buck with it, though I have harvested a great bull elk and watched a buddy harvest a beautiful Coues deer buck, both at extended distances. I am comfortable in opining that the 6.8 Western will build a reputation as a fantastic mule deer and all-around Western hunting cartridge. Bullet weights will average 165 to 175 grains, with velocities ranging from 2800 fps and up.
4. 7mm Remington Magnum
The “Seven Mag” has maintained a reputation as a great mule deer cartridge for half a century, and the modern long-range shooting movement has enabled the 7mm Remington Magnum to become a headline cartridge. It seamlessly transitioned from shooting light, fast projectiles to shooting heavy-for-caliber, aerodynamic bullets, and is now considered to be one of the finest long-range hunting cartridges available. One of my favorite big muley bucks fell to my 7mm Rem. Mag.; a massive old warrior with huge, bladed brow tines and 13 inches of forked drop tine. I still feel giddy when I think about that buck.
5. 6.5 Creedmoor
This list would be incomplete without a mule deer cartridge dedicated to our ladies and youth. While many of them can shoot the above-listed cartridges with ease, some are recoil sensitive and benefit from a hunting round that is a bit more friendly on the shoulder. In my opinion, the 6.5 Creedmoor is an awesome mule deer round, and while it lacks a little of the punch offered by the afore-mentioned cartridges, it still possess deadly oomph out to ranges beyond the distance most hunters have any business shooting. My wife and oldest daughter have shot handfuls of mule deer with the Creedmoor—many of them great bucks—with awesome results. It shoots the same projectiles as the 6.5 PRC, but starts them out about 200 to 250 fps slower. It’s supremely accurate, boasts excellent aerodynamics and is beautifully comfortable to shoot.
Dozens of cartridges that didn’t make this list are great mule deer killers. I had a particularly hard time leaving the legendary .30-06 Springfield off, but this article is about the best mule deer hunting cartridges. The ones listed here are, in my opinion, the best of the best when climbing sage slopes and stalking rocky crags in search of mule deer. Choose a premium bullet, settle your crosshairs and squeeze the trigger well. If you’re shooting one of these cartridges, it won’t let you down.