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


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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