Posts Tagged ‘American Airborne’

Today is 6th June, the 70th anniversary of D-Day – one of the most significant dates which would change the course of World War Two. On this day the Battle for Normandy began. The American Airborne Division parachuted in ahead of  thousands of British, Canadian and American troops who arrived on the five landing beaches, many of whom made it no further. Thousands died on that first day alone, in a bloody battle which was to rage all summer.

With Son away this week in Normandy taking part in the commemorations and celebrations which occur every year to mark this event, I grabbed my chance and re-introduced a duster to his room. As he is generally responsible for the state of his chamber I very rarely venture in. It’s amazing how dense dust can get within a year. Was it Quentin Crisp who said: “There is no need to do any housework at all. After the first four years the dirt doesn’t get any worse.”  I can see what he meant.

Anyway, as I was polishing along a bookshelf I came across a tiny sticker with the words:

“Enjoying your freedom? Thank a veteran.”

I was reminded of our extraordinary encounter last year with Jim “Pee Wee” Martin, a contact and friend of our son – an American Airborne veteran who stayed overnight with us while retracing his wartime steps through Europe. Son had taken him back to the English village where he had been billeted in 1943, to Stonehenge and to Bourne Woods in Surrey where “Band of Brothers” had been filmed before escorting him across the Channel to Normandy. Jim, age 92, astounded everyone by running some distance up hill, re-creating his tough training program in America before being shipped to England in 1943.

Some of you will remember that I posted a short film of his run last year. Here it is again, slightly longer to incorporate a second run he did when he got back to the States later that year: he ran up the original Currahee mountain in Toccoa, Georgia. It’s worth a second look. Make sure you have your sound turned up.

Son will meet up with Jim again in Normandy, over in Europe again to pick up an award. Thank a Veteran? Most definitely. Thanks to Jim and all those other young men who fought to give us all our freedom. May we never forget.

If you’d like to read more about Jim’s war, you can do so here, on my original post.

 

 

 

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At last, with much pride and an unashamed streak of nepotism, I can announce that Son has published his first book, an historical account of the 101st American Airborne’s time spent in our green and pleasant land prior to the D-Day landings of June 1944. ???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

After three years of extensive research which has taken him from the wilds of Wiltshire in southern England to the American Wild West and from Normandy to Holland and back again, he has pieced together archive photographs, anecdotes and interviews with veterans, the aim being:

“… not only to tell the history of this famous division during an often overlooked part of their service but to give an insight into how their relatively short period of time in England has left its mark nearly 70 years later.”

The division was made famous in 2001 when the miniseries Band of Brothers hit our screens and it was from a fascination with this that Son began his quest to discover as much about the whole division as he could. His goal was for the book to be ready to coincide with 6th June this year – the 70th anniversary of the historic Normandy invasion which was the turning point of WW2. After a few close shaves with proofing and the fine print, his book is finally published and for sale on Amazon.

You can check out his book here for UK readers and here for America.

Son will be over in Normandy for the celebrations in June – they are always extensive but this year promises to be even bigger and better as the Queen, Prince Phillip and President Obama will be in attendance. As I did last year, I will be writing some Normandy related posts in the run up to the 6th  of June and re-blogging the wonderful video of Son’s 92 year old veteran friend running up the mountain he first ran in 1942.

Where to next, I wonder …

 

 

 

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Things have been rather fraught here this week. The atmosphere at home has been charged with every emotion imaginable. If I compare it to something like the thrill of winning marathon gold to then be told that, as you cross the finishing line, you’re about to face extensive root canal work, should give you some idea of the peaks and troughs we’ve been experiencing.

I am talking about Son’s book. (I mentioned it last year in my post ‘Waiting for D-Day,’ which if you haven’t already, you can read about here ). His three years of research and writing about the 101st American Airborne’s time in England prior to the D-Day invasion in 1944 is on the brink of being published. (Marathon gold).

Proofs came back last week and while the cover and layout were perfect, inevitably there were minor changes required – a typo here, an upper case there and captions to check for the umpteenth time. (Root canal work).

Now that’s all been done, the book is back at the publisher’s awaiting final approval, there is nothing more Son can do but sit tight and wait and let that malignant enemy of all writers, self-doubt, descend.

So while being immensely proud I’ve been doling out pep talks and reassurance in equal measure. It’s exhausting. (And far more nerve-wracking than it ever was waiting for exam results). All being well – and it will be – (I have faith), his book will be available at the end of the month via Amazon. I will of course post details here as soon as he has a release date.

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My walks on the common therefore have been even more welcome this week. A sanctuary where there’s no phone coverage and where I can begin to deal with all the thoughts buzzing in my brain; to prioritise my own writing tasks I need to have finished by the end of the month and to let a dose of fresh air inspire me.

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I begin to see the wood for the trees.

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As the late afternoon sunshine sends its lengthening Giacometti shadows I turn for home, wondering which end of the spectrum I’ll be facing this evening. I trudge in my waterproofs over the slowly drying heath land and spy the season’s first wild crocus; green shoots of possibility pushing heads tentatively through a dormant tangle of brown bracken.

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 There’s an analogy in there somewhere but for now I’ll just do what’s needed.

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This is Veteran Jim “Pee Wee” Martin.

He is ninety-two years old. 8944021905_2cc4329064[1]

He arrived in England from Ohio, America, last weekend to begin his three-week Trip of Remembrance through Europe, visiting the places he encountered during WW2. He is travelling with his companion, Doug Barber, a history teacher, also from Ohio. Our son (the Sofa Loafer), met them at Heathrow and drove them to Wiltshire, where they revisited places Jim remembers from 1943. He had a reunion with Rosemary, a young girl he met in the village of Ramsbury, where he was billeted prior to the Normandy Invasion.  They have corresponded ever since, know all about each other’s lives and families, but this was their first meeting in almost seventy years.

One of Jim’s ambitions was realised when, on the way back to Surrey to stay over at Chez Pellett, they made a detour to take in Stonehenge. After walking all around the site it was back in the car to a final stop at the Bourne Woods, Farnham. It was here that the HBO miniseries, “Band of Brothers” filmed the Currahee Mountain sequence and Jim had been impressed that the location used was sympathetic to the real Currahee – which he had run up and down many times during training at Camp Toccoa. He amazed everyone when, after almost two hours in the car, he got out and sprinted up the hill. Doug managed to capture it on a short video. You can watch it here.

They arrived at our house in the early evening after a brief stop at a typically English pub. I expected him to be travel weary, jet-lagged, even. I would have been. But Jim is an extraordinary man and we feel very honoured and privileged to have made his acquaintance. We had a light supper and talked till late in the evening, S-L showed us a DVD of Jim taking a tandem sky-dive at the age of eighty-nine – another of his ambitions was to jump out of a plane again. Very early the next morning, they set off for the Portsmouth to Cherbourg ferry. The Sofa Loafer delivered them to mutual friends in Normandy who will look after them while there. After four days they head to Belgium, Holland and Germany.

Tonight there will be fireworks  to celebrate the 69th anniversary of D-Day. There will be parties and lighting of beacons all along the coast. They’ll all be there and I have a feeling that Jim will be the last man to bed. As he said when we were watching the sky-dive video – “Life is not a spectator sport.”

A moment of quiet reflection

A moment of quiet reflection

All Photographs courtesy of Doug Barber.

Below is a brief description of Jim’s war.

Jim’s war began in 1942 when he signed up to the 101st Airborne Division and trained with the 506th PIR (Parachute Infantry Regiment), at Camp Toccoa, Georgia, moving to Fort Benning for their jump preparation before being shipped to England in 1943. His G Company was based in and around the beautiful village of Ramsbury where further training was undertaken until the start of Operation Overlord – the Battle for Normandy.

In the early hours of 6th June, 1944, Jim, aged twenty three, was one of over 13 000 American paratroopers who crossed the Channel in a C47 and was dropped by parachute into Normandy. He landed safely near the small village of St Cȏme Du Mont, near Utah Beach. Thousands of his compatriots didn’t: the Germans had flooded the drop zones and many troops drowned, unable to stay upright in deep water, the weight of their chutes and supplies dragging them down. Jim went on to fight in Normandy for thirty three days before returning to England in July.

 By September 1944, Jim had jumped again, this time into Holland where his Company fought to secure “Hell’s Highway” in the ill-fated Operation Market Garden. After seventy days of fighting in the Netherlands, Jim’s unit camped out in France until they were sent to Bastogne in Belgium to take part in the Battle of the Bulge during a bitterly cold December. After Bastogne, Jim took part in the Rhineland Campaign and ended his war at Hitler’s mountain home, “The Eagle’s Nest” in Berchtesgaden in 1945.

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