Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 410: Artifacts and Documents for the "First Man In" on D-Day

Auction Date: May 13, 2022

Historic Grouping of Artifacts and Documents for Pathfinder Frank Lillyman, "First Man In" for the 101st Airborne in Normandy on D-Day

Estimated Price: $45,000 - $65,000

Historic Grouping of Artifacts and Documents for Pathfinder Frank Lillyman, "First Man In" for the 101st Airborne in Normandy on D-Day

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Conceived and assembled following lessons learned on earlier Allied air drops, the Pathfinder units of United States Army served as the tip of the spearhead of American forces. Selected from among the ranks of the airborne infantry, Pathfinders were trained on an array of signal and guidance devices, with which they could go into an intended drop zone ahead of the main airborne body to act as guides for the larger grouping of planes and gliders. This job, to be blunt, was exceptionally dangerous; between when they dropped and when the rest of the unit made it in, they were alone in very hostile territory, and they were expected to actively seek and destroy enemies who presented a threat to the drop zone. On the evening of June 5th, 1944, Captain Frank Lillyman was the overall commander of the 101st Airborne's Pathfinders, as well as the field leader of one of the Pathfinder elements, when the word came that the invasion was on; D-Day was happening, and it was time to gear up and roll out. Loading up on a C-47 with 17 men, a significant amount of leg pain from a training injury he had hidden so he wouldn't be pulled off the mission, and a cigar that had become both a signature and a good luck charm since his first jump, Lillyman was heading for Drop Zone A behind Utah Beach, destination of the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment. At the head of his unit, he was out the door and in the open sky of Occupied France at 12:15 AM to become the first man from the 101st Airborne to plant his boots on the soil for Operation Overlord; his only competition for being the first man in Allied uniform on the ground for the entire invasion were the members of the secretive OSS "Jedburgh" teams. Once down, he and his men had about 30 minutes to set up a number of guide devices, including special "Eureka" radar sets (one placed in a church steeple with the knowing consent of the priest, the other planted in a tree) and a set of ground lights to tell the aircrew when to give the "go" signal to their troopers. While this was going on, they also neutralized a machine gun nest and a 20mm AA gun position that threatened the latter; the German in charge of the latter was asleep in a Frenchman's bed when Lillyman arrived, and his unwilling host had zero hesitation in telling the Americans where to find him. Just before 1:00 AM, the full drop began, though even with the aid of Lillyman's Pathfinders, the operation was still messy, with paratroopers flung about nearly at random and forced to assemble themselves into ad-hoc units of whoever they could find. Later in the day, Lillyman and the Pathfinders were called upon to spot and mark a field to be used for land gliders for resupply and reinforcement, named Operation Keokuk. They found a suitable match and set up their signal devices, but the area was still notably hot, resulting in a number of gliders coming under fire or going off course and crashing into the trees. Moving to the aid of one such downed glider, Lillyman was shot in the arm and hit by shrapnel. Evacuated back to England, Lillyman didn't want to sit around and checked himself out of the hospital (read: went AWOL), got on a supply ship, and returned to France on his own initiative. Not being the subtle type, instead of laying low and quietly reintegrating into his unit, he instead started giving newsreel interviews. His boss in the 101st was not amused, tearing up a set of promotion papers and kicking him off the Pathfinders in retaliation for the stunt. Spending the remainder of the war with the 3rd Battalion of the 502nd, he saw significant action during Operation Market Garden and in the Ardennes Forest. Retiring from the Army in 1968 at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, Lillyman passed on in 1971 from a stroke at the age of 55. A broad array of medals, ribbons and patches are included, with both the Basic (with arrowhead and two stars on blue-on-blue identification backing) and Master Parachutist Badges, the scarce Pathfinder "winged torch" patch, Distinguished Unit Citation ribbon with oak leaf, Distinguished Service Cross (inscribed to Lillyman and dated for June 6th), Purple Heart (inscribed to match the DSC), Bronze Star, two French Croix de Guerre (both are the WWII medal, but one has the WWI pattern ribbon with bronze star, the other the WWII ribbon with bronze palm), one Belgian Croix de Guerre (with bronze palm), and a D-Day pattern leatherette armband. Included with the documents are the certificates for the Distinguished Service Cross, Purple Heart, Bronze Star (for WWII), Bronze Star Oak Leaf Cluster (dated 1952), Parachutist Badge (1942), and Glider Badge (1946), a 1965 issued retroactive diploma for graduating the Pathfinder Course, vintage photograph of then-Captain Lillyman participating in a unit inspection, archival photocopies of the general orders announcing his DSC, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and Purple Heart Oak Leaf Cluster, and an archival photocopy of the report to the Commanding General of the 101st about Pathfinder activities during D-Day. Rounding out the grouping is a DVD copy of the History Channel program "Pathfinders", a copy of the August 2019 issue of "World War II" magazine featuring a prominent story on Lillyman's adventures in Europe, and a provenance letter from one Brian Hoesl, claiming a chain of ownership starting with Lillyman's widow and includes author Gary Howard, who reportedly included the set in his "America's Finest" book set on U.S. Airborne equipment. Provenance: The Putnam Green/Sycamore Collection

Rating Definition:

Very good overall, showing wear and handling appropriate to age, though generally appearing well cared for over the years. The magazine shows some torn pages, and the DVD is untested. An excellent assembly of documentation, medals, patches and other artifacts from a major player in one of the most pivotal actions of World War II.

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