Military feature: Support from the skies

By Clarence Plank: PNT staff writer

Rupert Gamble of Portales was a pilot in the Air Force during World War II.

He was commissioned to the Air Force Cadets Program and trained to fly C-47 aircraft troop and cargo carriers over Europe.

Gamble is the father of Eastern New Mexico University President Steven Gamble, who said while his father didn’t fly on D-Day, he did fly many support missions afterward.

Rupert Gamble got to England in March, a couple of months before the invasion on June 6. Rupert said he spent his time flying training missions and air evacuations.

“On D-night, my aircraft was a spare,” Rupert said. “I just sat out on the runway with the engine running just in case. They were dropping paratroopers, so I was a spare plane just in case one of the planes broke down.”

Early that morning, Rupert said, he and the other airmen transported gliders across the channel to were troops were stationed. The gliders carried ammunition, jeeps, troopers, guns or supplies for troops. He participated in Operation Market Garden.

“They wanted to drop some troopers behind enemy lines to guard some bridges to keep the enemy from blowing them up,” Rupert said. “We dropped the troopers in the area where they are supposed to go until our troops were able to get to them and get the tank through.”

The majority of the time was carrying supplies, ammunition or gasoline tanks, said Gamble. During the Battle of the Bulge the Germans used all their manpower to try and break through the line, he said.

It was Christmas 1944. The 101st Airborne was cut off and facing heavy fire from the German army, Gamble said.

“The Germans sent a message to the general of the 101st Airborne telling them to surrender,” Gamble said. “The general sent a one-word message… ‘Nuts.’ ”

During this time Gamble’s squadron was dropping supplies to the 101st while taking heavy fire from the Germans.

“Those tracer rounds didn’t look too friendly coming up at you,” Gamble said. “Of course when we had to drop gliders in Holland, we had to go behind enemy lines. We were fired upon quite a bit there. Matter of fact when we were on our way back we got hit in our left engine and it knocked it out.”

Gamble said they started out at 8,000 feet but slowly started to lose altitude near Belgium.

As they were making their descent to land, Gamble suddenly noticed red flares — a signal that means abort the landing.

“We look up and here comes a British bomber at the other end of the runway coming in for a landing,” Gamble said.

When they were finally able to land, there was only enough hydraulic fluid to lower the landing gear on the left side. Gamble said it left them with no brakes on the left. They managed to stop near the end of the runway by revving the right engine so they could turn, Gamble said.