In the pre-dawn hours of June 6, 1944, a young paratrooper with the 101st Airborne lept out of a darkened plane doorway to begin his trek across Europe.
That young man was and is my Uncle.
For a variety of reasons, his company missed their drop zone by more than five miles. Scattered across acres of French farmland, it took most of the morning for them to regroup and advance on their objective, a Nazi radio/command post. My Uncle landed on the roof of a barn and rolled off to safety. Many of his brethren were injured or killed as they landed in trees or areas occupied by the enemy. It seemed to be an impossible situation. My Uncle eventually found and joined up with other troopers and by the end of the day had accomplished their immediate mission, though at a heavy cost of life.
He has rarely spoken of the events of that day except to say it was grim. He was engaged in many more battles as the Allies pushed into Germany. Six months later at Christmas, he found himself in another impossible situation in the Ardennes near Bastonge.
Surrounded by the enemy, low on supplies and ammunition, the 101st Airborne found itself cutoff from the rest of the Allies as the Germans swept forward in what would be their last offensive of the war. This battle is commonly called the "Battle of the Bulge". My Uncle recounts lying in his frozen foxhole dining on equally frozen hash for Christmas when his squad felt the ground begin to steadily rumble. Knowing they were surrounded and expecting to be overrun by Nazi tanks, my Uncle's sqaud held a short prayer service and prepared to meet the offensive as best they could.
As the noise and rumbling intensified, a forward scout rushed out of the woods past my Uncle's foxhole. My Uncle shouted out to him asking how many were coming. The scout looked back as he was running and excitedly yelled "it's Patton!" And so it was that thousands of more brave men came to the rescue of their brothers and broke the German offensive.
My Uncle finally mustered out after crossing into Germany. Back in the US, he went to college studied hard and later enjoyed success as a mechanical engineer and contractor.
I once asked my Uncle what possessed him to become a paratrooper. In his typical candor, he replied, "It paid $22 more per month!"
Thank you Uncle for doing what had to be done. For fighting to preserve what so many today take for granted. Thank you for the sense of honor you instilled in me and pride in doing a job well.
My Uncle, a true hero.
I posted this in 2008. My uncle is now 92 years old and continues to amaze me.
Updated: 3:41 PM GMT on June 06, 2011
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