In the early morning hours of June 6, 1944, Private Robert C. Hillman became one of over 13,000 American paratroopers to leap out of a plane over Normandy as part of the “D-Day” invasion of occupied France — one of the largest offensives of World War II. A member of the legendary 101st Airborne Division, Private Hillman was a native of Manchester, Connecticut who joined the army after graduating high school in 1942.
As he and his fellow paratroopers were flying in a C-47 plane over France, Hillman made a routine inspection of his gear, including his parachute. As it happened, Hillman’s parachute was manufactured, packed, and inspected by the Pioneer Parachute Company, located in his hometown of Manchester — but the coincidence didn’t end there.
According to Wright Brown, a war correspondent for the NBC radio network who was riding in the same plane, Hillman turned to him and voiced his confidence in the safety of his particular chute. When Brown asked Hillman why he was so sure, Hillman replied, “Because my mother works for the Pioneer Parachute Company, and her initials are on my chute!”
Back home in Connecticut, Mrs. Ronald C. Hillman — like so many other women in Connecticut and throughout the United States — had considered it her patriotic duty to take up factory work during World War II. With millions of parachutes being manufactured and sent to Allied troops overseas, the odds that Private Hillman would receive a chute inspected by his own mother were infinitesimally small, but proved infinitely reassuring for the young soldier. One of the most remarkable little coincidences of the entire war happened over the skies of Normandy, France, on this day in Connecticut history.
“Manchester, Conn. July-Aug., 1942. Cheney brothers and Pioneer Parachute Company mills,” Library of Congress Photo Collection
Ted Glanzer, “South Windsor Company is a Parachute Pioneer,” Journal Inquirer