A bungled jump landed Army paratrooper E.B. Wallace in a British hospital bed.
It was a Sunday in late May 1944, a week before his unit was to jump behind enemy lines on D-Day, June 6, the start of the massive Normandy invasion. When he awoke two days later, his captain, Tom Mulvey, was there. “What time you getting out of here?” Mulvey asked. “We are getting ready to leave for the invasion.”
“Doc wants to keep me here,” a woozy Wallace replied. “But if you get my clothes and open that window, I’ll go now.”
He quickly dressed and out the window he jumped. He made that jump in France and another in Holland, and then fought his way through the Battle of the Bulge into Germany to help capture Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest mountain retreat.
Friday, Ernest Bernard Wallace died at a Waxhaw nursing home after months of declining health. He was 95. Sunday, he’ll be memorialized at Mineral Springs United Methodist Church in Union County.
Wallace grew up in Charlotte just off The Plaza and left now-closed Central High School to work at a lumber yard to help support his mother and three sisters.
He was 22 in 1942 when he and his childhood best friend Lewis Moser drove to the main Charlotte post office and enlisted as Army paratroopers for the extra monthly $50.
After jump training, Wallace was sent to Aldbourne, England, in September 1943, reporting as a replacement to the 101st Airborne Division, nicknamed the “Screamin’ Eagles,” Fox Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment.
Meets another Charlottean
Walking into his barracks, Wallace introduced himself and said he was from Charlotte. Suddenly a trooper named Tom Alley leaped from his bunk and told Wallace he was from Charlotte, too.
They figured out they’d grown up a few blocks from each other in the Plaza Midwood neighborhood. Although Wallace knew Alley’s three uncles, the two had never met. They would fight through the war together and remain best friends until Alley died in 2012.
When the two returned to Charlotte after the war, they rarely talked about their combat experiences until they started going to reunions in the early 1980s. Wallace moved his family to Waxhaw and worked for Southern Railway until he retired in the early 1980s.
Then, the stories began to emerge.
At Normandy, they were locked into a staging area on June 4 and spent hours getting gear together, checking equipment and weapons, and studying maps and aerial equipment.
They were supposed to take off early June 5, but bad weather postponed the invasion until the 6th. About 10 p.m. on the 5th, Fox Company began to reassemble.
Little was said. Faces were grim as they boarded C-47 planes. They took packs with clothes, mess kits, machine-gun ammunition, boots and a rifle. They strapped parachutes to their backs and smeared their faces with chocolate.
“Some companies used shoe polish, some burned cork,” Wallace said in a 2004 interview. “In the dark, we didn’t want to stand out.”
‘So many men died’
Flying over the English Channel, Wallace stood at the open jump door and saw the vast convoy of ships and boats of every size and type stretching to the horizon.
By the time June 6 arrived, Fox Company had already jumped into Normandy. Their orders were to capture the town of Pouppeville, then secure the road that led to the beaches until the seaborne troops arrived.
But the planes had flown into thick clouds, confusing inexperienced pilots as the German hail of anti-aircraft gunfire forced the tight pack of planes to scatter.
Alley landed a block from the town square in Sainte-Mère-Église, 9 miles from his target. Wallace landed in a ditch just outside the town. His chute snagged on a power line. He could smell where tracers had burned the nylon as he used a knife to cut free.
Soon he was reunited with Alley and the rest of Fox Company, merging with outfits from the 82nd Airborne. Moving toward Pouppeville, they confronted Germans who were riding in a horse-drawn wagon.
The Germans surrendered, but one hit an American officer.
Alley shot him. “He was the first German I saw killed,” Wallace said.
Friday, he was the second to last among Fox Company to go, said daughter Lynn Wallace of Waxhaw.
“He made it to the beaches three days after D-Day and fell to his knees, thanking the Lord that he came in on a parachute,” his daughter said Friday. “So many men died on that beach.”
When Alley died three years ago, Wallace was undergoing physical therapy after a spill. Yet he insisted his family get him to the funeral.
After the service, he was wheeled to Alley’s casket. Wallace tenderly touched it, then strained to pull himself out of the chair to salute his old friend.
Now, no one from Fox Company will be there to salute him.
Service for E.B. Wallace
Visitation will be 1 p.m. Sunday at Mineral Springs United Methodist Church, 5915 Old Waxhaw-Monroe Road, Mineral Springs. The 2 p.m. funeral will include honor guards, a 21-gun salute and a bugler playing taps. The burial will follow in the church cemetery.