We're not lost, Sergeant, We're in … France


Top-ranking posts

Being the end of the year, I thought I’d look at some statistics and share them.

My top-ranking posts since I started this blog is dominated by one post, but the top 5 are all good posts:

Thanksgiving 1944         1,413

This got a huge number of hits due to being linked at Ace of Spades, thanks to our friends at Bring the Heat. On Thanksgiving of 1944, Eisenhower ordered that all soldiers have a turkey dinner. For airborne engineer John Carter, that provided a very humorous story that I was able to post the video of. I have some further videos of an interview with Carter and a couple of other stories. He’s quite a comedian.

Young Marine Passes         297

While the Marine Corps is made up of strong men, they also have strong hearts. A couple of times recently, they’ve made young men with terminal illnesses honorary Marines. The story of Cody Green and his honor guard, SGT Mark Dolfini, can’t help but move one to tears.

Denzel Washington at the Fisher House         236

Denzel Washington is among my favorite actors. He has great range and conveys the emotions of his characters very well. Some of his roles have been as military men and he’s gotten attached to the Fisher House. Fisher House Foundation is best known for a network of comfort homes where military and veterans’ families can stay at no cost while a loved one is receiving treatment. When Washington visited the Fisher House at Brooke Army Medical Center in 2004, his generosity launched an urban legend.

The Beast of Omaha         148

Heinrich Severloh was a German machine gunner at Omaha Beach and the horrors he helped inflict that day stayed in his dreams until his death in 2006.

The end of an era         136

For about a decade, Paul Woodadge built up a battlefield tour business in Normandy, expanding from a one-man operation, hiring several others to lead tours. Battlebus was the best tour company in Normandy and even had tours in Bastogne. Unfortunately, running a complex business and dealing with French tax and employment laws meant that Paul stopped being able to lead tours himself. While I lamented the end of an era, it meant that Paul could go back to doing what he loved. He also had time to publish Angels of Mercy: Two Screaming Eagle Medics in Angoville-au-Plain on D-Day (Normandy Combat Chronicles) (Volume 1)



GI Film Festival Returns to Town
12 April 2013, 18:02
Filed under: 517th, Films, Paratroopers, WWII | Tags: ,

Last year, my wife, my mother-in-law and I all attended parts of the GI Film Festival here in DC. The 2013 version runs 6-12 May. Looking over the films, there are several I’ll be interested in seeing and they have not yet revealed what the “Red Carpet” films for Friday and Saturday night will be. I noticed in particular that “Saints & Soldiers: Airborne Creed”, which involves paratroopers from the 517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team is being shown on Saturday at noon at the AMC Shirlington. (Some of their web pages are contradictory, but I am sure will be updated closer to the date.)

Don’t forget, you can sign up as an intern or volunteer.

There are a number of WWII period films, so definitely expect to hear more from me as we get closer to the date.



First American Combat Jump: 70 years ago today
8 November 2012, 07:00
Filed under: 509th, Doyle Yardley, Edson Raff, Paratroopers | Tags: , , , ,

On the morning of the 8th of November, 1942, the first American combat jump occurred in North Africa. LTC Edson Raff and 555 paratroopers had departed England late on the 7th, traveling over 1500 miles in 39 C-47s. Their task was to sieze two French airfields at Tafaraoui and LaSenia to deny their use by enemy fighters during Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa.



The Vacant Chair

I don’t know if it’s fair to say that I miss someone I’ve never met, but I do feel that I do. My father-in-law, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Henry Henderson, passed away before I ever met my wife and though I know he was not the easiest man to get along with, I suspect that Dick and I would have been friends.

Born in 1935 down in Uvalde, Texas, Dick grew up outdoors, competing with and conspiring with his brother, much as my own brothers and I had. He must have had the same wanderlust that drove me to find a way out of Michigan, but Dick’s way out was the Army. Commissioned in 1957, he “found a home in the Army”. As a young officer, he met his bride, Mary Lou Cammisa, and took her away from New York on an adventure around the country and the world. While he was stationed in Germany, they drove around Europe, exploring. The stories of the places they stayed and the mis-adventures pepper our conversations with my mother-in-law. Every time my wife and I turn in a rental car in Europe, I imagine Dick and Mary Lou sneaking away and breaking into a run as they leave behind the rental car in which a case of red wine had burst in the back seat. I can even, given the photos and descriptions from my wife, imagine Dick’s quiet, amused little snicker.

The Signal Corps was good to Dick, until it wasn’t. The good part was the training in technology and the advancement in both rank and leadership that occurred over the years. The bad part was over in Viet Nam. Signal Corps doesn’t sound so bad – you’re in the rear areas, and in some cases, he dealt with data processing. How dangerous can that be?

When Melissa and I went to France the first time, we visited the Loire Valley. I was able to connect with a retired US Army Signal Corps soldier – Bill Messner – who had married a French woman he’d met while serving at Signal Station Saumur in the 1950s. Bill had also served in Viet Nam and when we told him that Dick had cancer, Bill told us that a lot of Signal Corps men he’d served with in Viet Nam were dying of that as well. The bad thing about serving two tours in Viet Nam in the Signal Corps was that you had to drive up and down Route 1 a lot, checking and repairing the wires and equipment. So all those Signal Corps men got plenty of their share of Agent Orange.

Dick loved his girls, but Melissa never realized how much she’d miss him until the day of his funeral. He’d been a tough man, inspiring Melissa to write about growing up in his house as “Living with the Gestapo”. Of course, he was just trying to instill discipline and raise his daughter right. He didn’t make it easy for her to be close to him, but she tells me that despite the many times they’d butted heads even into her adult years, she wept uncontrollably at his funeral.

When we hold the Operation Dragoon and Colmar Pocket seminars, they always conduct a ceremony for the missing in action and prisoners of war, both at Arlington National Cemetery and again at the banquet. In this ceremony, a vacant chair and a place setting are laid out for the missing. I always think of the haunting lyrics of the Civil War era song, The Vacant Chair, “We shall meet and we shall miss him. There will be one vacant chair.”

At our wedding, Melissa and I wanted to include her father, so our good friend, Russ, who is a Sergeant in the National Guard (and will be deploying overseas next year) was able to get a Bronze Star with an Oak Leaf Cluster for Melissa to carry on her bouquet to signify his presence walking her down the aisle. When our brother-in-law Steve Murphy escorted Mary Lou down the aisle, he carried Dick’s flag from his funeral in Arlington. As the flag passed Russ, wearing his immaculate dress uniform, he rose to his feet and delivered a crisp salute. Steve placed Dick’s flag on a vacant chair next to Mary Lou, so that his presence would be known to all.

This year at Thanksgiving, and every year at family events, my mind may well drift to the man whom I know would have been my friend. I will thank him for giving me his daughter and I will miss him.



Ten miles in their shoes

This past weekend, my lovely wife, Melissa, ran in the Army Ten-Miler. She did it in honor of her father, COL Richard Henderson, and carried his St Christopher medal and dogtag, both of which he carried through his two tours in Viet Nam. Over the last mile, when her muscles were betraying her and the end of the race seemed so far, she gripped his icons in her hand and toughed it out, just as her father would have. Ten miles in his shoes.

We went to a restuarant in Arlington for lunch with her mother and couldn’t help but notice several runners come in together all wearing the same distinctive t-shirt. On the back, it had the silhouette of a soldier carrying his rifle, with Sgt Andrew C Nicol’s name.

Photo of Sgt Nicol's funeral, a wooden casket carried by Ranger pallbearersI was curious and had my smartphone with me. So, I quickly searched and found him listed on the Military Times Hall of Valor. Sgt Nichol had been killed by an IED in Afghanistan during his fifth combat deployment. He’d graduated from Exeter High School in 2006, joined the Army and quickly found his niche in the Rangers. In five short years, he deployed five times.

He was a wrestler in high school and the kind that never gives up. His coach related a story of a semi-final match that Nicol was losing badly on points that he won by pinning his opponent in the final seconds. He could also kid around with his friends and teammates, known for his crooked smile and his imitation of Seinfield’s Kramer. Like all Ranger sergeants, he was a leader, tasked with leading a team of up to 40 men when he died. He was awarded his second Bronze Star posthumously.

After we finished our meal, I stopped by to chat with the group. His father, Roland, and his sister both talked about running for him and pointed out that another in their group had a brother who’d been killed overseas as well. I’m an emotional guy, so mostly what I was able to choke out was that I was sorry for their loss and grateful for his service. Melissa and her mother also spoke about Dick’s service and Melissa’s run.

The A Team ranked 24th in the “All Comers” team category, running ten miles in Sgt Nicol’s shoes.



Weekend Wanderings, Columbus Day Weekend 2011

If you stood in the right field near Le Muy in southern France or near Sainte-Mère-Église in Normandy, you could have seen paratroopers rain down upon you in 1944. This week, I felt as if I was having a similar experience with paratrooper books.

  • Jim Broumley’s The Boldest Plan is the Best: The Combat History of the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion during WWII just arrived on Amazon and I’ve ordered my copy. I’ve been trying to find a copy of Stand in the Door: The Wartime History of the Elite 509th Parachute Infantry Batallion by Charles Doyle and Terrell Stewart, but there are few copies available, so the prices are exhorbitant. Broumley draws the extensive veteran recollections included in Stand in the Door and adds a great deal of material from other sources. He’s blogging, so you can catch up with his activities any time. Since he’s in Pennsylvania, maybe we can get him to drive down for the Dragoon event next year (2-5 August 2012).
  • On Tuesday, I got my much-delayed copy of LIONS OF CARENTAN, THE: Fallschirmjager Regiment 6, 1943-1945, which I’m very excited about. One of the challenges for me in studying WWII has been that I’ve read so little that comes from the Axis perspective. In my studies of the American Civil War, I’ve looked at both sides, examining the available forces, the tactical and strategic decisions and the aftermath. That allows a level of understanding that examining only one side can never give you. The Lions of Carentan is one of the ways I’ve been expanding my knowledge so that I can understand both sides and relate the events more effectively.
  • In the steady collapse of Borders bookstores, I often raided the sales. It was perhaps the most liberating book purchasing experience I’ve had as, with prices slashed, I simply gave a book a brief once-over and put it in my stack to buy. Normally, I take hours and read multiple reviews before committing my hard-earned cash to purchasing a book. So, I purchased a book titled “Overlord: The Illustrated History of the D-Day Landings”. It’s honestly a great book. It uses a lot of images from the Osprey series to di splay uniforms and equipment in action while providing some truly excellent maps. In each sector of Normandy, it also lists the order of battle and commanders (down to regimental level). None of the Allied-centric works I’ve read provide that information, so I find it immensely useful.
  • There’s a new American Civil War magazine out, The Civil War Monitor. It has an experienced editor (Terry Johnston, who had edited North and South for many years) and comes highly recommended (by Eric Wittenburg).


Weekend Wanderings, Early October 2011

I was a Scoutmaster for 14 years and one of my Eagle Scouts had joined the Marines. He spent some time outside of Ramadi and is now medically retired from the Marine Corps. We’re celebrating his service this weekend (if only I could find a Marine NCO sword – they’re back-ordered everywhere!), but he’s some good links to share:



To me, it was an awakening…

At night, sometimes Jim Welsh dreams. One would think that when the dreams of a paratrooper turn to World War II, he would dream of parachuting, of his comrades or of narrow escapes they made during the war. Jim tells me that more often, he finds himself dreaming of the glider men.

At Fort Benning, when the paratroopers would run past the glider men, they’d mock them. After the paratroopers completed their five jumps, they would blouse their pants and show off their jump wings, while deriding the “leg” infantry men in the glider battalions. The paratroopers had each volunteered for hazardous duty and considered themselves among the elite troops in the Army. The glider men had been assigned to an infantry unit that had the additional duty of arriving in combat via glider. They didn’t choose their assignment, received no “jump pay” or other bonus and were not privileged to blouse their pants like paratroopers.

Jim Welsh remembers that morning in southern France in August of 1944 and he shudders. The dreams he has of the glider men are not pleasant, but based on what he saw them endure that morning. Surrounded by fellow veterans and historians, Jim starts his recollection with, “To me, it was an awakening….”

After the horror of the glider assaults in Normandy and the south of France, paratroopers had seen what the glider men went through and there was no more mocking. The glider troops started getting “jump pay” and a good measure of respect from their airborne brethren.



Dragoon 2011 Commemoration/Seminar schedule

I have some more details on the Operation Dragoon Commemoration and Seminar being held next weekend (4-7 August 2011). While I do not yet have the list of speakers, I can reveal the schedule. Most of the seminars will be held on the 4th and 5th, with the wreath-laying and banquet on the 6th.

The banquet has always been pretty special, as veterans who’ve had a chance to get reacquianted have an opportunity and enough comfort with the audience to provide very interesting recollections of the war, such as John Carter’s Thanksgiving 1944 story.

At the wreath-laying, the French Legion of Honor will be presented to Lieutenant General (ret.) Seitz (517th ABN), Mr. John Keller (3rd ID), Mr. John Carter (1st Allied Airborne Task Force), and Mr. Roy Brumfield (3rd ID). LTG Seitz was the battalion commander of 2/517 PIR during the war and I read an interesting story about the interview process for new soldiers joining 2/517 as they formed that I detailed in a post this past winter.

LTG Seitz at the 517th reunion in 2005

There is ample time on Friday and Saturday for some oral interviews and I’ll be trying to sit with both Mr. Carter and LTG Seitz. Of course, I haven’t had a chance to really talk to any 509th veterans at length yet and Jim Welsh of the 551st PIB would be a great interview as well. So, all kinds of opportunities. If you’re interested in conducting some interviews, you’re more than welcome to come.

4 August (Thursday) – Check-in to the Sheraton National Hotel, 900 South Orme St. Arlington, VA 22204

1500-1700    Registration

1700-1830    Dinner (no host)

1830-2030    Opening Remarks and initial historical seminar

5 August (Friday)

0830-1200     Historical Seminar Session 2

1200-1330     Lunch (no host)

1330-1700     Historical Seminar Session 3

1700-1830     Dinner (no host)

1830-2030     Operation Dragoon historical/documentary films

6 August (Saturday)

0900-1000     Commemorative Ceremony Memorial Amphitheater (Mil: ASU, Civ: Business Attire)

1015-1100     Wreath laying ceremonies – Tomb of the Unknowns, 3rd Infantry Division Monument, Audie Murphy gravesite

1130-1730     Lunch (no host) and free time

1730-2000     Banquet (Mil: Dress, Civ: Business Attire)

7 August (Sunday)

0900-1100     Concluding historical seminar/closing remarks

Special Honored Guests: Mr. Robert D. Maxwell, 3rd Infantry Division Medal of Honor Recipient in WWII and Operation Dragoon veteran and Mayor Michel Tonon, Mayor of Salon-de-Provence, France. More about T5 Maxwell and his Medal of Honor next week.

You can also email CPT Monika Stoy for further information.



Pacific Airborne Medal of Honor
27 February 2011, 16:33
Filed under: 511th, Medal of Honor, Paratroopers | Tags: ,

I knew that some airborne units had shipped out to the Pacific and that they’d seen some intense fighting, especially in the Philippines, but I hadn’t realized that they’d made combat jumps. As I was reading about the liberation of Manila, I came across an account of PFC Manuel Perez, Jr’s Medal of Honor in Gerry Devlin’s Paratrooper. PFC Perez was serving as lead scout for A/1/511 during the advance on Fort McKinley on 13 February 1945.

While marching toward the inner ring of the fort’s defensive wall, Perez’s company had managed to knock out eleven of the twelve large bunkers. Perez had shot and killed five enemy soldiers during the preliminary skirmishes.

Now that the smaller bunkers were out of the way, Company A was facing the final and largest bunker blocking the approach to the fort. Inside were two twin-mount .50 caliber machine guns. Paratroopers nearing the big bunker were immediately cut to ribbons by the twin .50s.

In an attempt to take the bunker, Perez ran wide around its flank, killing four more enemy defenders along the way. From his new position, Perez threw a grenade into the bunker. When four Japanese ran out to escape the grenade blasts, he killed them.

Just then, Perez discovered that he had expended his rounds. While reloading, an escaping enemy soldier tried to kill him by <i>throwing a rifle with a fixed bayonet</i>, like javelin. As he tried to parry this thrust, Perez’s rifle was knocked from his hands, causing him to drop his bullets. Reaching down, he snatched the ememy rifle and killed his assailant and another Japanese soldier. Taking advantage of the confused situation, Perez ran toward his objective. On the way he bashed in the skulls of three Japanese who tried to stop him. He then ran inside the bunker and bayoneted the lone survivor of the grenade blasts.

While Perez survived that encounter, he would not survive to be awarded his medal, as was true of many such heroes. He was killed less than a week later, while charging a pillbox alone.

Perez is buried in Fairlawn Cemetery in his hometown of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Perez enlisted in Chicago and there is a plaza named after him in Chicago’s Little Village Square as well as an elementary school.

It’s very easy for the general public when thinking about paratroopers to forget about anyone who wasn’t in Easy Company. Mike Ranney had let Dick Winters know that his grandson had asked if he had been a hero during the war, to which Ranney responded that he wasn’t a hero, but he had served in a company of heroes. With men like Manuel Perez, Jr. in the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment on the other side of the globe, we were blessed with many companies of heroes.




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