82nd Airborne Division Blog

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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