82nd Airborne Division Blog

In this section we talk about people and events of the 82nd in WWII - the known and hopefully lots of the previously unknown. If you have something to add, we would love to hear it. You can enter your comments at the bottom of each story.

WWII Paratrooper Bob Hughart – F Company 505

Interview with Bob Hughart: 82nd Airborne Division, Co. F 505 PIR 1942-45

I met Bob after conferring with him by mail for more than a year. He is a retired steelworker from Gary, Indiana. Bob has lived at Cherokee Village, Arkansas since the 70’s. John Henderson made the trip with me and we met bob at the Wal Mart at Ash Flat. We talked for four hours and have just scratched the surface of his WWII experiences.

Bob was wearing a hat with patches from both the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. The hat had jump wings and three small Purple Hearts on it along with several other WWII related pins. Bob had a gold necklace with Jump Wings on it and a silver bracelet with jump wings that was studded with diamonds, four of them, each representing a combat jump in WWII. He also had jump wings tattooed on his left forearm.

Bob jumped in Sicily, Salerno, Normandy, and in Holland. He is one of few to do that and even fewer still with us in 2004. We met Bob and July 5, 2004 for the first time.

Bob told us that he joined the paratroopers because he heard that it was too tough for him and that he could not make it. “Nobody is going to tell me that and expect me not to try.” He said that the training was very tough but he took it seriously as he wanted all the skills he could get to help keep him alive in combat.

Bob was originally assigned to the Screaming Eagles of the 101st. He was with them for about a month. He said that he was “a lot wilder in those days” and had a run in with some MP’s and got put in jail. When he got out, the 101st had shipped out for more training and the army sent him to North Africa as a replacement in the 82nd.

In North Africa, he met a trooper named Santos. Santos was a Cuban-American. The army “told us not to go into that A-rab city because the A-rabs don’t like us, but old Santos, he did, he had got to liking this A-rab’s wife too much to stay away. Well, one time he does not come back. About three days later a camel comes walking in to camp with a burlap bag over its hump. Inside of it was old Santos. That A-rab had castrated him and put the parts in his mouth. That was a good message for us to stay away from that A-rab town.”

The first combat jump was in May of 1943. Bob said that he landed in his Drop Zone in Sicily without any problems and soon met up with some troopers and began to search the countryside. He landed a few feet from a small stone fence about a foot wide and 4 or 5 feet high. He said some of the troopers landed straddling the fences and it was “damn rough on the crotch.” He started seeing dead allies, Italians and Germans almost immediately.

It was in Sicily where Bob received the first of his three Purple Hearts.

“All hell broke loose in this little town and there is stuff flying everywhere. My buddy he gets hit hard and I am trying to help him. I feel something tug at my arm but don’t think too much of it. About this time my hand decides not to work. I am wearing gloves and I feel they are wet and heavy. Blood is running all down my arm.” (He showed us the wound in his upper left arm.) A machine gun bullet had cut about a 6 inch path across the bottom of his bicep. He did not say much more about Sicily.

The next jump was several months later in Italy.

“I am loaded in this C-46. There were 15 in my stick and the Red Light comes on and we all stand and ‘hook up.’ We are waiting for the green light and we will all go out the door as quickly as we can, so everyone is pushing forward. The plane is going 100 MPH and so are you. So, the quicker you get out the door the closer you land together on the ground. I look at the door and, GEE, we are still over the water. If that green light comes on we are going into the sea. We landed about one mile inland. That was cutting it pretty close.”

“I still got separated in Italy and fought with Canadians for a while and was with the 3rd Division for a while. I finally got hooked up with my company. A few weeks later, we were unloading supplies and got hot. There was a canal there and we were swimming back and fourth across it, about the second trip, I see that I am not going to make it. I yell for help and my buddies pull me out. I am sick as a dog. I go to the hospital and I have jaundice. I turned yellow. I was in there for several weeks. I want to get back to my unit but they say, “no way”. I know they will send me to a Replacement Depot and I will be reassigned. Hell, I did not want to be a tanker or in the regular infantry, so I just left. It took me forever to find my company. When I found them, they were in an Olive Grove. The lieutenant said, “glad you are back, how long since you had something to eat?” I told him two or three days. He sent me over to the mess tent. The sergeant told me that I was too late and would have to wait till breakfast. So I thought, OK and walked back over to my outfit. When the lieutenant found out that the sergeant would not feed me, he took me over there and told that guy to ‘give that soldier whatever he wants. If he wants peaches, open a can.’ I always like that lieutenant. Some did not, but I did.”

Bob was in a lot of scraps in Italy and endured some heavy artillery attacks. The next trip was to England to prepare for D-Day.

It stayed light in England until 11:00 in June in 1944. They were on “Double Daylight Savings Time.” Bob said that he could remember “playing soccer outside till 11:00 p.m. at times. The 505 had shipped out to England to participate in the D-Day invasions.

He does not remember the airport from which he departed on D-Day, the planes actually left from 15 different fields. Bob’s Drop Zone was St. Mere Eglise. I asked Bob if he dropped close to his zone. “I dropped right in the middle of town, right in this Frenchman’s garden. I landed in a compost heap. It was about the size of a pool table. My foot got turned under and I broke a bone in my foot. A knot the size of a grapefruit popped up on my foot. I could hear voices almost as I hit the ground, it was troopers getting together. I saw this plane that had already dropped his stick, flying back over, real low. I could see German machine gunners shooting at him from the top of a house because his landing lights were on. He was drawing fire away from the planes carrying troopers. He made it as far as I could see.”

“I fought on that foot for two weeks and could not take it anymore. I turned myself in to the medic and he cut my boot off. They sent me to a hospital. They told me that they could not put it into a cast because of where it was broken. They said it would take time to heal. It did. Sometimes it still hurts today.”

What do you remember about the flight across the channel?

“It is not like the movies where you see the guys talking to one another. It was so loud in that plane that you had to yell in the ear of the man in the bucket seat next to you. The plane was un-insulated and the motors where really loud. The propellers chopped up the air and it was continually hitting the plane and making all sorts of noise. You could not hear the ack-ack unless it was damn close to the plane. Also, it is pitch black in France at 1:00 in the morning in 44. You could see nothing on the ground unless it was on fire.”

Bob saw the fires in St. Mere Eglise that sucked some troopers into them to their death.

In the Hedgerow country Bob told the story of the wounded draft horse.

“We hear this wheezing sound on the other side of a Hedgerow. What the hell is that? I tell the men that this is the type of thing the Germans would do to trap us. So, I took a look. Here stands this horse with blood bubbles coming out his nose. He has a big hole in his side that is sucking air. He was a beautiful horse. I knew he was dying so I told a man to shoot him.”

“I can’t shoot him, he says.”

“None of them could shoot the horse. ‘Damn’, I said, ‘You can shoot Italians and Germans but you can’t shoot a horse!’ I shot him in the head to help him along.”

After two weeks in Normandy, it was back to England to recuperate and get ready for another mission. The mission came on September 17, 1944. The 82nd would drop into Holland and secure the bridges at Nijmegen and then hook up with the 101 and the Brits in Operation Market Garden. Bob said that it was a beautiful day for flying. They could see the Dutch below waving at them. He saw a German shoot at the planes with a rifle. He landed in a big open field and the 505 was engaged within hours.

The night before he was packing his parachute. He said they would always open if packed correctly. He had his chute just about packed and a grasshopper jumped in the silk. “I looked everywhere for that damn grasshopper! I could not find him. I closed it up. I did not sleep much that night for thinking, how much silk can one grasshopper eat in one night!”

Incident in Holland: bob and one German – speaking paratroopers were walking down a road. They see a German coming on a two-seat motorcycle. Bob’s friend yells at him in German to stop and talk. He stopped about 50 yards away from Bob and his buddy. The German and the trooper are talking. The German told them that he did not recognize their uniforms and wanted to know what unit they were in.

“Watch the look on his face. I am going to tell him that we are U.S. Paratroopers.”

The German started shaking and turned pale but still talked to the trooper.

“We have him so damn confused now that he thinks we are just kidding with him.”

Bob said to tell him that they needed his bike. The German turned to flee so Bob “had to kill him.” A half mile down the road a German machine gunner shot at them and broke the chain on the bike. “We had to leave it in the road. We were not hit.”

Another time they shot up a German supply truck. It caught fire and burned up. “The driver was like bacon. We then found out that it was full of bread and jam – all ruined. We could have used that food if we had known what he was carrying!”

The Battle of the Bulge:

This is where Bob got his third and final Purple Heart. Bob was shot in the face by a sniper on January 16, 1945 somewhere in Belgium. He has told me this story twice, once on the phone and once in person.

Bob was near a snow-covered field that contained Holstein cattle. The sniper was hidden among the cattle with a white sheet over his white uniform for camouflage.

“I am sitting here looking at my two dead buddies. Hell, I say buddies. I did not even know their names. They were replacements, maybe 18 years old. Both were shot in the head. I think that I know where he is and that I am OK and BAM, I am hit in the head, too. I am hit in the lower jaw and it cuts that big vein in my neck. I fell face down and blood was everywhere. My buddy yells at me to, “crawl for the road.” I did, I crawled about half of a mile. I started getting sleepy, but knew that I could not go to sleep. I would never wake up. I get to this fence and I have to crawl under it and – damn – right into a ditch full of cold water. I get through the water and crawled up on the road and passed out as I hear a motor coming. I wake up on the hood of a jeep with these two guys tying me down. The took me back to the aide station and from there I went back to England to a real hospital. They had me in a room with some guys that were really bad off. Some guys outside are making noise and a nurse tells them to “quiet down,  don’t you know there are men dying in there?” They then sent me back to the states for more surgery. They took some of my hip and replaced that missing bone. I got out of the army in 47.”

Bob said that Troopers in his outfit were not bad with their language. “We said Hell and Damn, but that was about it. I guess all outfits were different.” He said he watched most of Band of Brothers, but was disappointed at the scene where Easy was relaxing on the top floor of a German house. “Gee, how stupid would that be? They were in the basement? Where is the mortar going to hit? I just turned it off.”

“It was not all bad. There were some good times. One night we were in Belgium. It was cold, but not too cold. There was a little snow on the ground and it was raining a little. We had some warm food. Someone found an old coffee pot with some grounds. There were no Germans around to shoot at us. We got to rest. That was a pretty good night.”

This interview was conducted by Mr. Harry Branch of Harrison, Arkansas.

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From the mayor of the first town liberated on D-Day

This letter from Mayor Renaud to General DeGaulle was discovered in the American National Archives by Tommy McArdle. Likely written in 1944.

FROM THE MAYOR OF SAINTE MERE EGLISE

TO MONSIER LE COMMISSAIRE DU GOUVERNEMENT DU GENERAL DE GAULLE

SUBJECT:  REQUEST FOR A FRENCH CITATION FOR THE TWO AIRBORNE BATTALIONS; WHICH LANDED IN SAINTE MERE EGLISE

Monsieur le Commissaire,

Monday June 5th, around 23 hr 30, in the thundering noise of large aircraft flying at low altitude, and in the lights of a house burning, the American paratroopers landed in Sainte Mere Eglise.

They were the first allied troops to set afoot on the soil of our enslaved country. They belonged to two battalions:  the second and third battalions of the 505 PIR of the 82nd A.D. under the command of Colonel Benjamin H. Vandervoort and Lieutenant Edward C. Krause.

Upon their landing, they were machine gunned by a group of Flak soldiers who camped on a park located near the city square.  At dawn, these Flak troups under the command of Koller Staicht were pushed out of the town and settled in the village of Fauville, south of Sainte Mere Eglise.

During the next 48 hours, the two airborne battalions, who already suffered heavy casualties during the first night; (distance of 8 kilometers from the sea, surrounded by enemy forces; to the south: in Fauville, to the north: in Neuville au Plain by two battalions of the 1050 Herman infantry division well equipped with canons and tanks, to the east: towards the sea, by two companies of fanatical Georgians who will fight to the last man) will resist alone with their guns, two heavy machine guns and two canons delivered by gliders.

These American soldiers (I was able to observe them during battle) spoke and walked quietly, smoking their cigarettes and chewing gum as they hugged the town walls, reacting with cool under constant fire from the German artillery located in Azeville and St. Martin.

In the evening of June 6th, from the ditch where I took refuge with my family, I sensed that the front line was getting closer to us.  The two German battalions in Neuville au Plain and the troops of Captain Keller attacked the 505.  All through the night of June 6th, the battle was ferocious.  The Germans got close to the northern entrance of the town.  The paratroopers were even fighting with knives.  One paratrooper I talked to told me “We attack.  Reinforcements from the sea will get here around 06:00.  Everything is O.K.”

That same evening, they were still waiting for reinforcements.  One soldier told me “There is some delay, the sea is very rough.”  As the women were crying and saying; “Please don’t abandon us”, he replied with a large smile “We never give up, we would rather die here.”

A witness told me that he saw some paratroopers riding horses at full speed to rush at the defense of the threatened part of the town.  After the battle, several dead horses were lying in the center of the town.

When at last, the troops arrived from the sea, and we were so happy to hear the tanks rolling on the road from Ravenoville, the paratroopers were running out of ammunition.  They told us; “We can only use our guns when we are very close to target and we cannot waste any ammunition.  After that our only defense will be bayonettes and knives.”

48 hours after their arrival, the airborne men had accomplished a fantastic success.  These two airborne battalions had destroyed the German troops:  in the north: two battalions, in the south: one battalion and one Flak group, in the east: two companies of Georgians who fought to the last man, sheltered in the castle of Beuzeville au Plain.  They also destroyed 8 German tanks.         The airborne soldiers suffered very heavy casualties.  During all that time, the battalion medic Lyle B. Putman was taking care of our wounded as if they were American soldiers.  I am asking you, Monsieur le Commissaire du Gouvernement, if it would be possible to solicit General de Gaulle, who knows what bravery means, to give to these brave soldiers, who first of all, defeated the Germans on French soil, the Citation which gives them the right to wear on their uniform the French Fourragere.

I believe that their sacrifice will feel lighter to them if they get the right to put on their regiment flag this sign of the French gratitude.

In their coming battles, these paratroopers will fight with even more bravery with pride to be the airborne troops which France distinguished as: “Bravest among the Brave”

Signed The Mayor of Sainte Mere Eglise

Alexandre Renaud

Translation by Maurice Renaud. I believe; this letter was sent by my father; as early as July,1944. Please don’t hesitate to share with airborne friends.

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Private Amorose lands in deep water on D-Day

Private Orville Amorose jumped into Sicily with the rest of the invading 505 Parachute Infantry Regiment. Unfortunately, he landed on a brick wall, slamming his knee into it. He was able to continue on for the next several days, but his knee became so swollen, he had to be evacuated to a hospital ship where he remained for the next few weeks.

When he returned to duty, he was assigned to the newly reorganized Defense Platoon, which was assigned to Colonel Gavin (commanding officer of the 505) and his headquarters. Therefore, Amorose went wherever Gavin went.

Later, when Gavin was promoted to General and executive officer of the 82nd Airborne Division (of which the 505 is a part), Amorose was assigned to the HHq Company of the division. He was an assistant bazooka man.

The night of the jump into Normandy he thought was to be his last. He jumped from a C-47 and as he descended he realized he was heading for the fields that the Germans had flooded. (The Merderet River was blocked, flooding hundreds of yards on either side of the banks.) With all the gear he was wearing, not to mention the fact that he couldn’t swim, he had resigned himself to the fact that he was about to drown. Amorose figured the good Lord was watching over him though, because he landed standing up in water that only rose to his chest. Every day thereafter, in his mind, was a bonus.

The first person he came across was General Gavin. Gavin set up his headquarters, but soon had to withdraw to a different location. Amorose and another trooper (possible Sheehan) were left behind as the rear guard. (This is likely the action for which he was awarded the Bronze Star.)

It was mentioned earlier that he was an assistant bazooka man. For some reason the main bazooka man missed the jump, so Amorose took over that role, carrying around an inoperable bazooka for several days.

He also made the Holland jump later in the war and participated in the Battle of the Bulge.

While overseas, Amorose wrote several letters to a girl back home that he had knows since they were both children. Her name was Patricia Lanagan. He asked her not to get married until he came home and had a chance to date her. Upon returning home, he returned to Ford car company as an electrician and began dating Patricia. They were married in 1948.

Paratrooper Paul (Aronowitz) Andrews remembers situations with Amorose…

It seems our conversations dealt mainly about women – the army and personalities of other members of E Company (505), mostly officers as they were an odd bunch.

On weekend passes I think our primary goal was girls (before I met my wife). We also enjoyed eating out since anything out was better than the mess hall. We usually ate fairly well because most of the time citizens would pay for our meals without mentioning it. Not always, but many times our money was refused. There were nice people in Atlanta.

The thing to remember regarding weekends is that we didn’t have to many of them free. Also, as mentioned before, I met my wife in October 1942 and free weekends after that were spent with her.

We usually went to Atlanta by bus and agreed to meet at a certain time for the return trip and then we went our separate ways.

I don’t remember any specific conversations he had with any other men in the unit, but I know he was very popular and considered to be a friend to all. Everyone liked him. He always seemed to have a smile on his face.

My most vivid memory with Amorose on the Monterey (the ship that brought the 505 from New York to Casablanca) was that we spent about two days exploring every nook and cranny of the ship. We found a VERY small room (way down and way forward). In fact, it was so far forward that the room was shaped like a triangle. The significance of that room was that it contained only one item. A bathtub! A real bathtub. We told no-one about it as we knew it would be swamped with men. We however, used it many times over the two week cruise. It was salt water, but hey, a bath is a bath! Take it when you can.

This brings to mind (for the first time in years) another bathing session. In Sicily (I don’t remember where or when) there were about five of us that came upon a large pool that looked like a movie set for a Roman bath. It was obviously hundreds of years old with decaying tall Roman columns surrounding the pool, but the water was clear so we all took advantage of it and bathed. Amorose was there because we both remarked about the bathtub on the Monterey.

In Africa at Oujda (before jumping into Sicily), everyone – and I do mean everyone – had dysentery. (We called it “The G.I. Trots”.) There were thousands of flies in the desert. (Big black flies.) It got so bad that most of the men would not take a chance of sleeping in their puptents but rather spent the night sleeping outside the slit trenches we used for latrines. Each trench was encircled with a canvas fence (called a fly). Amorose and I both spent a few nights there.

In a related story, at Oujda we did a lot of training at night. Now this was a problem for most of us as we still suffered from “the trots”. So, one night Amorose had the trots and had to stop. We could not stop. I began to worry when Amorose didn’t rejoin us (it was a very dark night). Toward dawn we arrived back at camp and there was Amorose, peacefully sleeping.

He told me that when he realized he could not find us in the dark, he climbed a hill and looked around for lights. He knew the only lights had to be our regiments camp. He went toward the lights and in about an hour found himself very near E Company’s site.

A few days later I was in the same situation and followed the lights, but did not get back to E Company’s site until well after dawn.

Another thought about Amorose was in Sicily. We were all crowded onto trucks moving along in a convoy in the countryside when we heard machine gun fire from our right flank. (We knew it was the Germans because their’s fired so much more rapidly than ours. ) From our right coming from behind were several 109′s (German fighter planes). We all fell to the floor of the truck, which was difficult, because there were so many of us. I fell across someone and someone else fell across me. As I was looking at the floor of the truck a hole appeared in the floor before my eyes. As the planes passed over we jumped out of the truck to run for cover before they came around for another pass at us. We were heading for a nearby culvert which was about four feet deep. As I got to the culvert I saw Amorose pull a wounded friend of ours to safety. It is strange that I cannot remember his name. I know that he was from Virginia and was one of the nicest people I have ever met.

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Italian soldiers happily surrender to Sgt. Aronowitz

Sergeant Paul Aronowitz gives some insight into the fighting of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment in Sicily and Italy.

Sicily

Landing in Sicily “we were so scattered over the countryside that we were lucky if we found one or two other troopers to join up with. Even then the chances were that they were from another company.” Aronowitz notes that he spent as much time with men from A Company and C Company as he did with his own E Company men.

Aronowitz received the Bronze Star in Sicily. As he says, “it is a strange story and I am not really sure why I received it.

“Very early in the Sicilian campaign there were a number of us (20 – 30) from various companies of the first and second battalions along with Lt. Long. We had just taken shelter in an old school building. We were running low on water, so Lt. Long told me to take a man and go into the village and find a source of water for us. I think the village was named Ragusa but am not sure.” (It was actually Marina de Ragusa and was right by the coast.) Aronowitz’s good friend “Amorose was on perimeter guard duty so I took Fay. As we entered the village we saw two Italian officers with there hands in the air shouting Paison (surrendering). They indicated there were others waiting to surrender so Fay took one to find the water and I went with the other to get his men. As we approached a large barn I saw about 40 men lying about. They all got up and put their hands up in surrender. I had them line up in a column of twos and had them put their weapons in a small donkey cart (complete with donkey). The NCO’s had 9mm Beretta pistols (a prized souvenir). Those I took and belted them under my blouse (all six of them). The prisoners were very happy as we went through the village to our camp. At the camp Lt. Long herded them into a large room, then turned to me and asked how I had gotten so fat. I opened my blouse and I saw his eyes light up. He asked me what I intended to do with so many and I replied that I was going to give one to my C.O. (him). He smiled, held out his hand and thanked me. I gave one to Amorose, one to Fay, one to our friend from Virginia and one to someone else (?). I lost mine when I was wounded (later in the war) and went to the hospital. (Also later in the war) I met my Virginia friend at the replacement depot in Africa and he told me he lost his when he went to the hospital.

“So for that I got a Bronze Star. Was it for capturing prisoners (which was no big deal) or was it for giving my C.O. a souvenir pistol? I don’t think either one is worthy of a Bronze Star.”

There was a big battle at Biazza Ridge between the 82nd Airborne paratroopers and German troops backed by a few tanks.  “I got there after it started – long enough to be involved, but it was toward the end of the battle. I was delayed (en route to the battle) because the small group I was with was ‘captured’ by soldiers of the 45th division (specifically, an Oklahoma National Guard unit known as the Thunderbirds).” The 45th had made an amphibious landing and was working their way inland. “They thought that our paratrooper’s uniform was a German uniform. They said we spoke good English, but thought it was just a ruse. They kept up overnight until their battalion commander realized who we were. I guess that was lucky for me as it kept me safe from Biazza for a while.

“During the mop up of the ridge I was with a group of four or five men led by Lt. T.W. Long when we came upon a German campsite that was hastily deserted. All personal items were left behind, even warm coffee. Among the items I found a German medal which I still have. It is called Der Deutchen Mutter and was given to women who produced (four or more) children for the Reich. I have no idea why the soldier had it.

“During the evening I was in a forward position and stayed alert all night. It changed me. I had to think of the enemy soldiers as some kind of animals. Not humans.

“After it was all over on the Ridge – Colonel Gavin ordered all of us to line up in a column of two’s, officers and men alike (forget rank). We were ordered to march parallel to a stone fence which was about four feet high. Colonel Gavin was standing in front of the fence – feet apart – arms folded over his chest – and looking at us with a very stoic look on his face as we passed by. On each side of the colonel were our dead. They lay at a 45 degree angle to the fence with their heads at the fence. At the time it seemed to me there were hundreds of them. There were not, of course. It just seemed that way. I think all of us were trying to hide tears unsuccessfully. There was not a dry eye – and to this day tears well up in my eyes when I think about it. I cannot tell the story to my family without having to pause for tears.

“I don’t know if the colonel was trying to harden our resolve or to march by in a show of respect. It accomplished both. Gavin sure knew what he was doing!!!!!

“That stone fence I mentioned was one of hundreds all over Sicily. They had something to do with drainage problems. They were also responsible for a great deal of casualties on the night of the jump.”

Italy

“The jump into Italy was a little better as we were not so scattered, but it seemed to me it was a little less brutal as well – at least (it was) where I landed.”

The 505 helped secure the Salerno beachhead in Italy and later attacked North toward the city of Naples. After that, the 2nd Battalion was involved in very bloody fighting on the approach to the Volturno River.

This was when “I was blown out of a foxhole (most likely by a German 88 round) and suffered a chipped bone in my left knee as well as a severe concussion. I was in a coma for three days and wound up in a hospital in Cairo, Egypt. They were flying supplies in and then the planes would pick up wounded and take them back to wherever the plane was based.

“Apparently I received some shrapnel wounds, but they were not readily noticeable. However, over the years little (very tiny) slivers find their way to the outer part of my skin and over the years doctors have removed them using tweezers. They don’t hurt and most of the time they are discovered by the doctors during examinations.

“Because of the concussion they would not allow me to return to a combat unit so I stayed with the rear echelon in Sicily while E Company was still in Italy.

“Orders came down that the 505 was to leave so we boarded a French ship (Filthy Filthy Filthy!) at Augusta Sicily and set sail. After leaving port we were told we were going to England to prepare for another invasion.

“As we were sailing in the Mediterranean Sea I came down with a case of Malaria so as we passed by Algiers they lowered me and others down to a smaller craft which took us to a hospital.

“After recovering I was sent to a replacement depot in Oran where I was segregated with other soldiers, all recipients of the Purple Heart. New units (non combatant) like Quartermaster, Signal, and Ordinance where being formed and they were called Purple Heart outfits since all enlisted men were recipients of one. I went to a Quartermaster outfit as Sergeant of the Guard. After a few months President Roosevelt ordered all Purple Heart units returned to the United States. I returned in late 1944 and discharged in early 1945.”

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Paul Aronowitz’s story – 505 PIR

My experiences in World War II began in the fall of 1939. I was 15 years old and living in Jacksonville, Florida. The war in Europe had begun earlier that year.

I was not in school – having been permanently dismissed. The “Great Depression” was still hurting the South so there were no jobs available for someone so young. Whatever was available usually went to men with families.

My father was a veteran of World War I and although born in another country, he became a citizen through his service in the US Army. He was very patriotic and instilled in me a great love of country and service to this country.

At that time, Sherard Comer, a very close friend, was in the army and while home on leave described his life in the army. It was fascinating to me. He also made me realize that this country was preparing for a war! So I enlisted in the army! Never mind that I was underage! I managed it! I was in the army for two years when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and we were at war.

On December 7, 1941 the day of that attack, my unit, the 265 Coast artillery, was stationed at Fort Davey Crockett in Galveston, Texas. At that time I was in the hospital with my first and only case of asthma. After release from the hospital, I found that my outfit had left for the Philippines to participate in the defense of Bataan and Corregidor. They were all captured later and subject to the “Bataan Death March.” I was assigned to another unit and was sent to where our big guns, 12 inch Mortars and 10 inch disappearing guns, were located on the Eastern tip of the Galveston Island. We pitched tents right on the beach and waited for an invasion which never came.

During this period civilians were not allowed into the camp area but every day people, mostly women and girls, came to the gate and left food, cookies, books and other appropriate items for the soldiers since we were not allowed out of camp. After about two months the entire unit was transferred to Fort Taylor, Key West, Florida. I was in charge of the machine gun nests that were on the fort’s perimeter. Here again we lived on the beaches in pup tents and waited for an invasion that never came.

After a few weeks the routine became somewhat dull so several of us decided that the only way we were ever going to see the war was in another unit. I volunteered for something brand new in the US Army, the “Parachute Troops” and was sent to Georgia’s Fort Benning jump school. After one months and five jumps, I was assigned to Company “E” 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division as their Operation Sergeant. We trained at Fort Benning and later at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Those were unusual days for soldiers. We did not want for food since the military was not subjected to the food rationing program as was the civilian population. Even so we seemed to eat a lot of lamb and a lot of powdered eggs. When we were lucky enough to get passes into town it was rare for us to pay for anything. Civilians wanted to pay. Some movie houses would not charge soldiers for admission. The same was true for many restaurants as civilians would leave money with cashiers to pay for soldiers meals. People were wonderful.

Base pay for an Army private was $30 a month, up from $21. As a sergeant, I was paid $54 a month. All paratroopers received hazardous pay of $50 a month. We called it jump pay.

Among the soldiers there was a feeling of camaraderie that I had never experienced before and have never experienced since.

Among the civilian population there was a cohesiveness of purpose that had not been seen before or since. Everyone seemed to be putting 100% of their being into winning the war. Except for the fact that we were at war, it was a wonderful feeling to be a part of this country at that time.

In April of 1943 the 82nd Airborne Division was sent to North Africa by ship. We arrived at Casablanca, French Morocco on the 10th of May then took a train to a desert camp on the border of Algeria. After a few weeks more training we went to Kairouan, Tunisia.

On July 9, 1943, our unit, the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, jumped into combat in Sicily. The operation was called Operation Husky thus becoming the first American troops to invade the continent of Europe. It was also the first combined airborne assault in history. After 38 days of combat in Sicily, we went into Salerno, the boot of Italy. After a few weeks I was wounded and sent back to a hospital in Egypt and then Algeria.

By the time I recuperated my unit had sailed to England where they prepared for the D Day invasion. I was sent to a replacement depot where I was chosen to go to Italy to help establish a Parachute Jump School. Before I could be sent there, however, I was included in a group of “Purple Heart” soldiers selected to be sent back to the United States.

I came home on a Liberty Ship and was sent to Fort Bragg, N.C. where I was honorably discharged.

After the war I re-enlisted, became a Commissioned Officer, and later a Warrant Officer. I stayed in the Army for 14 years and also spent 16 months in Korea during that conflict.

While no one likes war as such, there was a feeling of accomplishment at that time that is unique in its understanding. It was a wonderful thing to see the people of this country working together as no nation has ever done before. The United States accomplished a miracle in their waging of this war and this country as well as the rest of the world which is greater for it.

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It is good to be brave but better to be smart and less painful to those around you.

“Train thoroughly while you have the opportunity. Remember it is good to be brave but better to be smart and less painful to those around you.”

Colonel Mark Alexander
US 82nd Airborne Division
reflecting on his D-Day experiences

This is probably my favorite of all my grandfather’s quotes. I didn’t even know he said it until I found it on the Wharton University of Pennsylvania website.

Here’s another good one:

“It always pays to thank people. Particularly the ones that have been good to you.

And if a guy has not done well by you, sometimes it’s a good idea just to hit him in the mouth.”

The second half of that was only a joke. Funny though!

Here’s another. He sent this from the European Theater during the war.

“I have seen so much of death over here that I have come to believe one should do everything he can to enjoy life – as he may not be here tomorrow.”

OK, one more. We’ll end with one that kind of cracked me up when I heard him say it. He didn’t usually talk this way, but got colorful once in a while. He probably said a lot worse during the war though. When he came back from overseas, my grandmother said he cussed like a sailor. He had to clean his mouth up because my mother – two years old at the time – started picking up some nasty words.

“I kind of chewed his ass a little bit for lagging so far behind and I don’t think he liked it… That’s okay, I don’t give a god damn.”

If you have a quote that you like, add it in the comments section below. Please give credit to whomever said it.

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War is indeed a nightmare of hell

“War is indeed a nightmare of hell and more do I realize that these men of ours are the most courageous in the world. They will never back up, no matter what the odds. German prisoners tell us that our paratroopers are the fiercest and most determined fighters they have ever seen.”

- quote from Lt. Col. Mark Alexander taken from a letter to his parents written not long after D-Day. Parts of it were printed in the June 29, 1944 edition of the Daily Jounral-World – Lawrence, Kansas

At the time it was written, Alexander was in command of the 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division in France. Major Fred Kellam, the battalion commander on D-Day, had been killed. General Gavin ordered Alexander to take over because he was very experienced, having successfully led the 2nd Battalion 505 in Sicily and Italy. He would remain in that position for ten days, at which time General Ridgway, overall commander of the 82nd, made Alexander the executive officer of the 508th Parachute Regiment.

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A Belgium man’s quest for family history leads to a memorial honoring American paratroopers

Michel Bara wanted to dig into and uncover more about his family history. He started on his quest after retiring from chief of police of the town of Mons in Northern Belgium. This Belgian patriot found that through his Italian roots, he had four cousins that died in World War II.

Two served in the French military. One was killed on-board ship when a mine exploded during an exercise (this was just before war broken out). The second received a minor wound while cleaning a weapon, but with no penicillin available at that time, it became infected and proved fatal.

A third cousin was an Italian soldier. After Italy capitulated he was taken as a prisoner of war by the German army. While being transferred by boat to Rhodos, he went down with the ship when it sunk in a terrible storm.

Arbrefontaine, Belgium

January 7, 1945. This is believed to be Dave Berardi's jeep.

The fourth cousin was an American paratrooper named Dave Berardi. As part of A Company 505th Parachute Infantry Division, he fought in the cold and miserable conditions of the Battle of the Bulge. Berardi drove a jeep and was killed on January 6, 1945 when it took a direct hit by German Tiger tank near Arbrefontaine, Belgium.

Paratrooper Dave Berardi

Paratrooper Dave Berardi and friends

Paratrooper friend

Another paratrooper, Bob Murphy, who served with Berardi, told Michel of a time earlier in the war when his cousin saved the day. The regiment was involved in very bloody fighting after jumping on and around the city of Nijmegen, Holland in late September 1944. German forces counter attacked and thrust into the nearby town of Mook. Murphy and several others attempting to hold ground exhausted their ammo and were trapped in a cellar. It was clear they would either have to surrender or die. Moments before waving the white flag, Dave Berardi arrived. He jumped down into the cellar loaded with ammunition. They continued to fight and played their part in stopping the enemy advance.

Bob Murphy and Michel Bara

Bob Murphy and Michel Bara 2008

Monument

Several years ago Michel made contact with Bob and through his research was able to find the spot where his cousin died near Arbrefontaine. He met Pierre Toubon, who lived nearby. Pierre thought that a monument to the 505 should be erected where the jeep was struck all those years ago. He spoke to various people in town and city officials and succeeded in obtaining permission. However, the location was on private property, but a gentleman by the name of Foguenne generously donated some of his land to the endeavor.

Mr Foguenne donated land for the 505 Monument

Mr. Foguenne generously donated the land for the 505 Monument.

Paratrooper Dave Berardi must have looked down from heaven and was pleased with what he saw. His American family, sweetheart from England, and old friend Bob Murphy were all present at the monument’s inauguration.

505 Monument at Arbrefontaine

505 Monument at Arbrefontaine

Dave Berardi's English sweetheart

Dave Berardi's English sweetheart

Michel Bara’s cousins that died during World War II:

French soldier Gilbert Bardey: Born 01/23/24 at Lille France, 43 regt Inf Died 11/22/44

French soldier Rene Vandevyvere: Born 01/13/20, died on board the ship Pluton during a mining exercise just before war broke out, 09/13/39

Italian soldier Luigi Valli: Born 05/01/1923 at Piennes Italy, ASN N15092 with the 47 Regt Fataria te bat, died on the ship Orion when it sunk on 02/11/44.

American soldier Dave Berardi: Born 02/06/22, from Nemacolin Pennsylvania. Michel Bara spoke with four paratroopers who remembered Dave; Bob Murphy, Chris Christensen, Ed Sayre and Leslie D. Fries.

Dave Berardi

505 Paratrooper Dave Berardi

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Bazookas in World War II

In 1942 the American’s first used the bazooka during battle. The fairly inaccurate M1 was ineffectively used against axis armor in North Africa by troops that had no training with the weapon.

However, the United States felt it had potential and brought an upgraded version, the M1A1 with them during the Sicily invasion. There it had some success against small tanks (Italian and early German models), but had to hit larger Tiger I tanks in vulnerable spots – treads, sides, underbelly, etc to do any damage at all. Major drawbacks were that the person firing the bazooka was quite exposed and the rocket left a smoke trail showing the enemy where the shot had come from.

Lt. Col. Art Gorham, the 1st Battalion Commander of the 505 Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, was killed when the tank he successfully targeted suffered little or no damage and returned fire.

Meanwhile, German soldiers captured bazookas on the Eastern Front after the American’s gave some to the Russians. They quickly reverse engineered it and built a far superior version, the Panzerschreck, which proved highly successful against allied tanks.

The allies continued to improve the weapon (M9, M9A1), but in combat it was less and less successful due to the ever increasing size and armor of German Panzers. They were more useful against infantry and some enemy defensive positions.

Strangely, in the Pacific Theater, the exact opposite was true. Bazooka rockets had no trouble penetrating the thin metal of Japanese tanks, but were often unable to damage defensive positions protected by sand or wood as they were too soft to cause the rocket to detonate.

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Corporal Shenkle and the attack on Hill 95

World War II – Normandy: Lt. Col. Mark Alexander was badly wounded and almost died hours before he was to lead an attack on Hill 95 in Normandy. This is well covered in the book Jump Commander. Corporal George Shenkle was standing right next to him, but didn’t receive a scratch. Here is new information from Shenkle that I do not think is available in any book.

“I was a communications corporal and when in combat handled a ‘Handy-talkie’ and when in garrison was a telephone switchboard  operator. I was assigned to be at the hand of our platoon officer (in the field) although it didn’t always work out that way.

When (Alexander) was hit I was within three feet of him as was another enlisted man on the other side. (Neither man received so much as a scratch.) We were preparing to move into position to take hill 95. The day or so before this we had just been through taking the motor vehickle park at Baupte – an attack were we had lost (Lt.) Col. Shanley through a ‘booby-trap’ of which he had just gotten through warning us.” Alexander was the executive officer of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, but moved forward to take Shanley’s place as commander of the 2nd Battalion 508.

“I remember the spot where all this happened as if it was yesterday and should I ever have the chance to go back could trace my footsteps precisely. I’ve often wondered about the advisability of assembling in a wooded area for the enemy  could lob mortar or artillery shells into the tree tops as they did.”

The axis powers never developed proximity fuzes during World War II, meaning their artillery did not explode until it struck something. If a round hit a tree, the burst of shrapnel was far more likely to find and kill a man than if it hit the ground. Because of this, German artillerymen often targeted nearby trees instead of soldiers.

Alexander was badly wounded and spent the next week fighting for his life. Captain Chester Graham became the new battalion commander and lead the attack on Hill 95.

Shenkle continues, “I remember moving down a slight incline to a ditch at the edge of an open field that we were expected to cross to reach the base of hill 95. I remember hesitating for a few seconds to console myself that I’d either come out of this alive or should I be shot would have been killed. I figured I had a fifty-fifty chance of making it but I never once ever considered not going.

“I know that Chet Graham, (see a picture of him on flickr) although he held the rank of captain, was the most senior officer available to lead the attack that fortunately was successful although his efforts were never appreciated by Col. Lindquist (commander of the 508) for he removed Chet for being insubordinate. I find that later General Gavin was able to correct that situation to Chet’s appreciation.

“I never knew Captain Simmons (one of the senior 2nd Battalion officers who was killed early in the attack) and hardly knew any of the officers of the other platoons of our company. I probably didn’t make an effort to know many of my fellow enlisted men  because of the fear of loss should one I had become friendly with was killed – I guess it was my emotional defense mechanism.”

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