As the 19-year-old flew into enemy territory during World War II, he and his fellow members of the 194th Glider Infantry Regiment did not even have an engine to keep them aloft.
Instead, they dodged German antiaircraft fire in gliders made of nothing more than canvas, wood and metal.
“Once we were turned loose, we landed as quickly as we could, as the gliders became the targets,” said Jim Ingram, now 92, as he recalled one of his last missions of the war.
Ingram recently visited the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. as part of an Honor Flight for veterans.
Accompanying Ingram was a fellow veteran, Ret. Army Sgt. John Darcy, an UCHealth emergency room nurse in Fort Collins. Because of Ingram’s health issues, Darcy provided one-on-one medical support during the trip. Ingram said he would not have been able to make the trip without Darcy, and he couldn’t have found a better travel companion than the former paratrooper.
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“We bonded over our experiences, which were similar despite being 50 years apart,” Darcy recalled. “Being terrified in combat is being terrified in combat, whether that’s in 1945 or 2005. The feeling is the same and you can relate.”
Darcy served with the 82nd Airborne as a paratrooper from 1983-87 and spent time in Germany — walking many of the battlefields where Ingram also had fought. He again served in 1991, and then was part of the active and inactive reserves of the U.S. Army from 2001-06, serving in many different theaters of operations in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. In 2012, he joined UCHealth as a registered nurse in the emergency department and in interventional radiology, and he also is attending school to become a nurse practitioner.
During their visit to the monument, Ingram and Darcy admired the circular bronze and granite memorial that commemorates 16 million members of the Armed Forces who fought in World War II and 405,399 who made the ultimate sacrifice and lost their lives.
The monument has 4,048 gold stars, one for every 10 Americans who died during the war.
As Ingram and Darcy studied the memorial, they paused to take a photo in front of a panel etched with these words: “Here we mark the price of freedom.’’
Ingram is part of the Greatest Generation, and though he doesn’t speak in much detail about his time in the war, one only has to read history books about the battles he fought to know that Ingram knows first-hand the price of freedom.
During the December 1944 Battle of the Bulge, the 17th Airborne, which the 194th was a part of, was called in as infantry to seize the town of Flamierge, Germany and to help other regiments push forward and eventually achieve their objectives. Heavy casualties were sustained, according to one historic account of the battle.
Ingram was injured — hit by shrapnel in the shoulder — and received a Purple Heart in the war, but he survived. He knew many other young men who did not.
“Jim and I mostly talked about how it felt to be at these memorials,” Darcy said.
Darcy marveled at Ingram’s courage.
“I can’t imagine what it was like,” Darcy elaborated. “I was scared to jump out of an airplane and this guy was in a glider.”
Only recently having returned to his unit after his injury, Pfc. Ingram loaded into a Waco military glider with 12 other men and sat right behind the pilot. Barely concealed and dodging enemy fire, Ingram and fellow members of the 194th Glider Infantry Regiment set out to land behind enemy lines to seize the Issel Canal for safe crossing for the rest of their division.
The engineless gliders were towed into the air by military transport planes – usually one glider per plane, but in the case of this early-1945 airborne assault on the Rhine, called Operation Varsity, each plane towed two gliders. Once over their target, the gliders were released and landed amid German artillery units. They were quickly abandoned by the crews.
During Operation Varsity, which turned out to be the last full-scale airborne operation of World War II, the 194th accomplished their mission within a few weeks, including the destruction of 42 artillery pieces and 10 tanks as well as the capture of 1,000 German prisoners.
Ingram remained in the region until Victory in Europe Day, May 8, 1945, then in January 1946, he returned to his Wyoming hometown. He went on to study at the Colorado State University veterinary school and graduated in 1952. After a few years practicing, he became a professor at CSU, starting its veterinary neurology department. He retired in 1995.
Ingram’s recent trip to Washington, D.C. was part of Honor Flight Northern Colorado trip with more than 100 veterans, including nine from WWII.
Honor Flight Northern Colorado is a local branch of the Honor Flight network, which provides free visits to war memorials for veterans as an appreciation for their unselfish service to their country. The flights have always focused on WWII veterans but in northern Colorado have extended to terminally ill and Purple Heart recipients from any conflict, Korean War vets and more recently, Vietnam vets.
It was Darcy’s second time as a medical guardian on the Honor Flight, and he plans to save up his money to do it again. Although the trips are free for honorees, the guardians pay their own way to volunteer.
“I’d walk through fire for these guys,” Darcy said of the Honor Flight veterans. “The things they’ve done; the stuff they saw — we don’t do enough for them.”