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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Front-line lessons
6 December 2010, 18:55
Filed under: Leadership, Officers, Veterans | Tags: , , , ,

At the Colmar Pocket seminar, GEN Fred Kroesen spoke about his experience as junior officer during World War II. He spoke at length about the fighting, relating that he started as the weapons platoon commander, but as each other platoon commander was wounded (oddly, each was wounded while standing next to Kroesen), his role expanded. He almost got to give back command of the 3rd platoon, but as he was bringing up that Lieutenant (who’d recovered from his wounds), that Lieutenant got wounded again. After a short R&R trip to Paris, he returned to take command of the company, as the only other officer left standing had been promoted to battalion XO.

He related two major lessons: trust your junior officers and war is a collective effort.

When I was a Scoutmaster, I relied on those two lessons.

Tell the junior leaders what needs to get done and get out of their way. If you’ve trained them properly, they’ll get it right. I knew that if the boys who held the leadership positions didn’t make the decisions, they would never learn to be leaders themselves, and, quite frankly, they’d get bored and quit. As the General says, the man (or boy) on the ground is going to have the best handle on what’s happening there and how to handle it. If you step and tell him how-to-do-it instead of just what-to-do, he’s going to expect you to always tell him how-to-do-it. Then, when you’re not around, which is certain to happen, he’s likely to do nothing or do the wrong thing. You have to give him the training, provide some direction and observe. Of course, good followup – perhaps with after-action reviews – can provide further insight, using each action as a training opportunity.

The General relates that war is a collective effort and it surely is. Highly motivated soldiers (or Boy Scouts) working together accomplish far more than a handful of heros acting individually. Team effort is actually a force-multiplier. Those leaders who can get everyone on the same page, working together, accomplish far more than any other leader. When I worked in a warehouse after I got out of college, the plant manager was able to get everyone very motivated for about four months. We all felt part of the team and we truly produced. Somehow, he let us lose that feeling and the productivity simply disappeared. He’d gotten it right, but lost sight of his methods, failing to treat us like members of a team and… everyone realized how they were being treated and responded accordingly. I see it all the time at competitive events in Scouting those that work together win, regardless of how talented individuals in other groups might be.

At the seminar, I met a couple of active duty Generals. I don’t think you can find two more motivated, sincere leaders of men than Major General Randall Marchi (28th ID) and Major General Eldon Regua (75th ID). I had an opportunity to talk with each of them for a few minutes and they each expressed how honored they were to meet and show their respect for the veterans of World War II. Those veterans are truly a treasure and I urge everyone to take full opportunity to meet them and to listen and learn. They are a treasured resource that is disappearing far too fast.



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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