I was born July 22, 1922 in Detroit, Michigan. As a young man, the thought of being a paratrooper sounded like a good way to serve my country. I had no way of knowing what kind of person it would take to qualify. I was always in good physical condition, never smoked or drank any alcohol until I went overseas to England. Then I started smoking cigars and drinking beer, but didn't indulge in hard liquor. I took cigars with me in the invasion of France and Holland. One time in England, we made a practice jump for Prime Minister Winston Churchill. After we jumped, some of us ran over to see him. We stood just a couple hundred feet from this great man. Churchill was smoking a cigar, and I stood there and lit up one of my own!
I volunteered for the paratroops on September 28, 1942, and spent the first day at Camp Custer, Michigan doing K.P. duty. The second day, I was on my way to Toccoa, Georgia for training with I Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. I always seemed to be doing much more than my share of K.P. and guard duty, but I never missed a long march, parachute jump, or other training. I remember having two days of sick leave to have my tonsils removed. The doctor gave me a shot of local anesthetic in my neck, which was supposed to deaden the pain while he cut away in my throat, but tears were running down my face from the pain. When he was finished, the doctor said, "OK son, back to your barracks."
The training at Toccoa was very thorough and difficult--both physically and mentally. Twice a week we ran a mountain called "Currahee" three miles up and three miles down. We didn't have tennis shoes in those days, just good old heavy army shoes. Each company tried to make the best time in running this mountain. Every day was spent pushing ourselves to the limit, 3 to 4 hours a day of physical training. There were many long marches 24 miles in length and even one that was 136 miles. This type of training was being conducted in camps throughout the United States and overseas in England, until June 6, 1944, the date of the invasion of France.
While in training, we made five practice parachute jumps and were considered paratroopers and received our wings. This was only the beginning. We then jumped out of C-47 airplanes. We made a couple of night jumps in full field equipment. At night you can't see the ground and hit very hard. It really makes you wonder if you're still in one piece. My combat equipment consisted of: 1 rifle, 150 rounds of ammunition, 4 grenades, trench knife, bayonet, gas mask, K rations, cigars, and many prayers. When jumping, we always carried two parachutes--one for reserve.
Ten days before the invasion of France, we were living in a special area waiting, thinking, praying, knowing some of us would never come back. On June 4, Captain McKnight of I Company called for an inspection of O.D. uniforms. My O.D. pants were cut for shorts and worn under my jump suit for added warmth. The Captain saw this and told me, "When I get back, I'll have you court martialed." The Captain never came back because he was held captive by the Germans for the duration of the war.
We made the jump on June 6, 1944 at 1:00am from about 500 feet, which meant our reserve parachutes couldn't have been used if needed. I spent 33 days in France. LTC Cole of the 502nd Parachute Infantry received the Congressional Medal of Honor for the bayonet attack on Carentan, France, June 12, 1944. Harry Westerberg and I were in the first bayonet attack of World War II. Many men lost their lives in that attack. Harry was wounded, and I ended up in a large ditch with German machine guns firing over me.
Nearly all the planes flying over France in the invasion received some damage. It looked like a living hell below, and we jumped right into the middle of it! I feel proud to have been able to serve my country so that people can live in freedom, but war is hell. I remember fighting in France and not being able to wash or put on clean socks. We were hoping for some sleep time, but never got it. Each day was another war--moving, fighting on, digging fox holes, and hedge rows. The hedgerows were very thick. The seconds seemed like minutes, minutes like hours, hours like days; your constant thought from day to day was just wanting to survive and that to do so, you would have to kill or be killed yourself. You can't read about combat and expect to understand it. You have to be there as a part of it.
After the invasion of France, we returned to Ramsbury, England to regroup. We lost many men to death, and many more were wounded and captured. In our squad of 12 men, I was the only one to return. My friends had many tears shed for them.
They gave us a 10-day pass in England. I decided to see London and went there with my friend Harold Stedman. It took us 2 extra days to get back, and the AWOL is on my record, but I still have a good conduct and discharge record.
While in England, we prepared for the invasion of Holland. There were many replacements in the 506th. Of the original 750 men, 615 were killed, and only 135 survived. There were no non-coms left in the 3rd Platoon; all were new replacements. There were only about 10 left of the original 36 in the platoon. I went back to being a PFC rifleman and first scout. I really didn't want it any other way. I made no new friends except Harold Stedman. None of my other good friends ever came back from France.
The invasion of Holland was on September 17, 1944. We jumped from a height of 1,200 feet. Remembering my cold feet in France, I jumped in Holland with galoshes in my pack. The 506th captured the city of Eindhoven (120,000 population) on the second day. It was the first city captured in Holland. On September 22, 1944, I was wounded on Hell's Highway in Veghel after single-handedly attacking an enemy tank.
So many unusual things happened during my course of service and in combat with the Airborne. Some day I'll put even more of my experiences in writing. But for now, it's a good day if you are standing above the earth--and eating a homemade bowl of chili!
FREEDOM STANDS BECAUSE HEROES SERVE