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


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.

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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.



So much to learn
11 January 2011, 19:20
Filed under: 509th, Edson Raff, Paratroopers | Tags: ,

I don’t know why it surprises me, but it seems every time I think I’ve learned something that no one knows about, I find a secondary source that at least mentions it. I’ve been reading Gerry Devlin’s seminal work, Paratrooper!, and it has been eye-opening. I thought it would be a good summary for someone who already knew a lot about paratroopers (thinking that I was that person), but instead, every chapter either exposes me to something new, or briefly describes an event I thought was so obscure that no one had written about it yet in a secondary source. The more I read, the more I know that I have so much to learn before I really know anything.

I thought I’d gotten a jump on Devlin in regards to the mission to blow up the El Djem bridge in Tunisia. I’d found information on it on the internet back in 2005 and have a link with some good details now (see 20 Dec 42), but was so disappointed when I read Devlin’s discussion of it. I wasn’t disappointed that he covered it briefly, but that I could have so easily learned about it by just buying Devlin’s book 6 years ago instead of scratching my head and wondering what Raff had done between Torch and Overlord.

So, I still have many books to buy and research to do, so that I don’t make myself look the fool by missing something that was obvious to someone else 50 years ago, yet unimportant to more modern scholars.



Weekend Wanderings

I’m going to start accumulating the “best of the blogs” that I read each week and post them on Sunday for people to read.



You want tough? Try 2/517’s interview process

I attended the local gun show recently and ran across a great book-dealer, Jack Long (jacklong1945@verizon.net), who had a great batch of books on display. I really lucked out, scoring a 50th Anniversary copy of Edson Raff’s We Jumped to Fight, Ralph Ingersoll’s The Battle is the Payoff, Gerald Devlin’s Paratrooper, and Bob Bowen’s Fighting with the Screaming Eagles (on 1/401 GIR). However, I started by reading Gerald Astor’s Battling Buzzards, since I’ve met several men who served in the 517th PIR. It’s quite a book.

Last year, one of the veterans at the Operation Dragoon commemoration was none other than the CO of 2/517, Richard Seitz. Never having read anything about the 517th before that event, I had no idea who he was. His posting as battalion commander of 2/517 a few days before his 25th birthday made him one of the youngest battalion commanders during the war. The trust that COL Lou Walsh had in his abilities was proven wise during the Battle of the Bulge, as Task Force Seitz helped clear the way into St.Vith. Years later, Seitz rose to command the 82nd Airborne Division, retiring as a Lieutenant General in 1975. If you look at the Airborne battalion and regimental commanders in World War II, you can find a cadre that built and maintained our Airborne and Special Forces troops for the next thirty years. I’ve been considering writing a volume akin to D.S. Freeman’s Lee’s Lieutenants covering all of these men – perhaps Ridgway’s Lieutenants….

Well, the 517th had started at Camp Toccoa, like the more famous 506th, with new recruits getting their basic training within the regiment. Like every other regiment at Toccoa, training was tremendously difficult and wash-outs were common. Despite this, Colonel Walsh was a picky man. Every potential member of the regiment was interviewed before joining the regiment to determine whether they belonged. One of Seitz’s interview questions (though not given to every candidate) was “Can you put your first through that wall?”



Thanksgiving 1944
25 November 2010, 10:09
Filed under: 517th, Operation Dragoon, Paratroopers, Veterans | Tags: , , ,

As I sit here in my living room, on the couch, with the puppy snuggling next to my hip, the rain outside doesn’t affect us. Of course, for the men in the airborne in 1944, Thanksgiving wasn’t necessarily so comfortable. At the Operation Dragoon event this August, I met John Carter, who served in an Airborne Engineering Company and an Airborne Signals Company. John Carter was attached to the 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment and, for Thanksgiving 1944, situated along the Italian border, protecting the right flank of the 6th Army Group as it marched north.

On November 23, 1944, this Thanksgiving message from General Eisenhower was broadcast  on the home front.

In this great war theater millions of America’s fighting men and their Allies are, by their courage, endurance and suffering, making daily headway against a fanatical enemy. They are surmounting unbelievable hardships and obstacles to insure to all of us the future right to live as free people. Mud, bitter cold, bullets and minefields cannot stop them if they are plentifully supplied and supported from the homeland. They need myriads of shells and tires and blankets and guns and planes – a thousand things to enable them to keep up the incessant pressure. These they must get from the money you lend to the government.

Another thing – they are entitled to the constant assurance of your understanding, of your resolution, and of your unflagging zeal in the cause for which they are offering their lives. To keep faith with them none of us can permit our minds and hearts to stray for a single second from the great task we have before us. In the current war bond drive, you once again have special opportunity to give these men the things they require and by so doing, reassure them and the whole world that the United States is a single, determined unit in working and fighting for complete victory.

There is just one way to gain the peace we want; each of us must work with ever increasing devotion and effectiveness up to the day the enemy capitulates.

We here – all of us – count upon you to over-subscribe the war loan and then to transform the money quickly into vital fighting equipment. It is needed, now.

Eisenhower also apparently decreed that every serviceman in the European Theater of Operations have turkey for Thanksgiving dinner. John Carter had volunteered for the Army. John Carter had volunteered for the Airborne. On Thanksgiving 1944, John volunteered to cook a Thanksgiving turkey on the front lines….

John’s wife, Fran, who is quite the pistol, says that John is allowed to cook at home despite the adventure of his 1944 Thanksgiving turkey. Fran built B-29s in Birmingham, Alabama, while John fought the Germans across France. After the war, they married and became professors at Samford University in Birmingham. In 1998, on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, Fran founded the American Rosie the Riveter Association. There’s a great article about them in American Profile magazine.

On this Thanksgiving, I’d like to give thanks to John and Fran Carter, as well as the rest of the Greatest Generation, for their efforts. The spirit that they embody lives today in our service men and women, serving at home and abroad with little thanks or recognition. God bless John and Fran. God bless our troops. Happy Thanksgiving to all….




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