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Parachute Infantry: An American Paratrooper's Memoir of D-Day and the Fall of the Third Reich

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Overview

David Kenyon Webster’s memoir is a clear-eyed, emotionally charged chronicle of youth, camaraderie, and the chaos of war. Relying on his own letters home and recollections he penned just after his discharge, Webster gives a first hand account of life in E Company, 101st Airborne Division, crafting a memoir that resonates with the immediacy of a gripping novel.

From the beaches of Normandy to the blood-dimmed battlefields of Holland, here are acts of courage and cowardice, ...

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Parachute Infantry: An American Paratrooper's Memoir of D-Day and the Fall of the Third Reich

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Overview

David Kenyon Webster’s memoir is a clear-eyed, emotionally charged chronicle of youth, camaraderie, and the chaos of war. Relying on his own letters home and recollections he penned just after his discharge, Webster gives a first hand account of life in E Company, 101st Airborne Division, crafting a memoir that resonates with the immediacy of a gripping novel.

From the beaches of Normandy to the blood-dimmed battlefields of Holland, here are acts of courage and cowardice, moments of irritating boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror, and pitched urban warfare. Offering a remarkable snapshot of what it was like to enter Germany in the last days of World War II, Webster presents a vivid, varied cast of young paratroopers from all walks of life, and unforgettable glimpses of enemy soldiers and hapless civilians caught up in the melee. Parachute Infantry is at once harsh and moving, boisterous and tragic, and stands today as an unsurpassed chronicle of war--how men fight it, survive it, and remember it.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Webster left this gutsy, sometimes bemused and sometimes angry memoir behind.... It bites and hangs on."—The New York Times"Beautifully written... perfectly evokes life and battle in a parachute infantry company."—The Washington Post Book World
Library Journal
Webster was definitely not your average GI. An English major at Harvard, he could have spent World War II as an officer or in a combat support branch. Instead, he volunteered to serve as a combat infantryman in the new U.S. Army airborne forces. His desire to fight the Nazis was more than fulfilled through combat jumps on D-Day and later behind German lines. Himself wounded, Webster buried more than a few of his close friends. Although all personal narratives of combat possess common themes and follow predictable paths, they invariably draw the reader into their world of common suffering, shared joy, collective terror, and appalling inhumanity. Webster brings this world alive for the reader. A useful supplement to Stephen Ambrose's Band of Brothers (LJ 5/15/92), which told the story of Webster's parachute unit. For comprehensive World War II collections in academic and public libraries. [See also World War II: 50 Years After D-Day, LJ 4/ 1/94, p. 110-11.]-John R. Vallely, Siena Coll. Lib., Loudonville, N.Y.
Booknews
Webster wrote this book a short time after the war, relying on his letters home and recollections he wrote right after his discharge. His memoirs are threaded with novel-type narrative and conversation, and they have never been published. Webster died in 1961 in a boating accident while shark fishing. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR booknews.com
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385336499
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/28/2002
  • Edition description: Revised
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 169,643
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.82 (d)

Meet the Author

David Kenyon Webster worked as a reporter and writer after the war. He died in a boating accident, in 1961, while shark fishing. Webster is portrayed by the actor Eion Bailey in the HBO miniseries.

LSU Press

LSU Press

LSU Press

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Read an Excerpt

It was the end of May, 1944. We had been in England eight months while others fought, and now our time had come. A last inspection, a last short-arm; clean the barracks and police the area. Every man gets a new jumpsuit and an orange smoke grenade. We move out at noon.

O.K., let's go. Mount the buses and say goodbye to the village of Aldbourne, to its green hills and mossy barns and thatched cottages, to the white pubs, the brown cow-pond, the old gray church. A V sign, a wave of the hand, a friendly smile for the two bakers and Barney and Ma and the crippled man who drags a child's cart, collecting cans for the scrap-metal drive. No more London, no more mild-and-bitter, no more field problems or playground jumps.

We were hot and crowded on the ride south but not unaware of the beauty around us, a beauty made more lovely by the knowledge that many of us would never see it again. Loaded with gear and ammunition and sweating terribly in woolen winter uniforms, we drove under the tall green trees south of camp, past Wittenditch and the back hill to Ramsbury, past the cozy tea room at Chilton Foliat and the water meadow and cattail bog that fronted on the pink, Elizabethan magnificence of Littlecote Manor, home of the legendary wild Darrells and more recently of our regimental commander, Colonel Robert F. Sink.

We crossed the Kennet River on an arched stone bridge, made a sharp left turn at the Froxfield-Littlecote intersection, and rolled through Hungerford to the Great Western Railroad station on the outskirts, where we must have waited for hours. At least it seemed like hours, for the sun was so hot, our gear so tight, our clothes so airless and itchy. Gradually the talk died down and more and more men lay back on their musette bags and fell asleep. Tension passed into boredom.

It was supposed to be a secret that we were setting off for the Invasion of Europe, but the secret was hard to keep from passersby. Our fresh bandoleers, new ammunition pouches, and full musette bags; the camouflage netting on our helmets; the bundles of orange cloth and identification panels that almost every man carried; the trench knives sewn on our boots; the tense, excited way we talked.

I, however, was still skeptical, for I had imagined that our last move would be at least as well disguised as our arrival in Aldbourne. It would be proper, correct, and traditional, I thought, to fade away from Aldbourne on a cold, dark night in a sealed convoy. After all we had been told about security, it seemed foolish to move us out so openly for D-Day at hot high noon. I looked at the orange cloth and the orange smoke grenades and loudly proclaimed, "Hell, this is just another goddamn maneuver. This time we're the orange team."

Our train slid in and stopped. We piled aboard, a squad of twelve to each compartment designed for six civilians, threw our excess gear on the floor, and put the machine guns and mortars in the luggage racks overhead and the musette bags under the seats. Down came the broad leather window straps and with them the windows, and soon everybody had settled back quietly with his thoughts and his memories and forebodings to rest awhile and enjoy the trip.

Fast and smooth we rode, shot through the green landscape in our sealed tube, as if we were trying to make up for all our waiting. We rattled south and west, through pocket villages and little towns we'd never heard of before. Through Pewsey and Westbury and Bruton and Cas Cory, Yeovil and Axminster. Through tunnels and across rivers that would be brooks and creeks in our own land (the Avon, the Wylye, the Stour, the Frome, the Axe). As we got sleepier and sleepier, we came nearer the Channel and saw scores of overgrown 1940 pillboxes, their sagging barbed wire draped with wild vines.

"Tweet, tweet!" our engine shrilled as we rattled through the stations without a pause. "D-Day calling," the wheels replied, "D-Day calling, D-Day calling, D-Day calling."

We dozed or talked softly, smoked or looked out the windows, opened our K rations and ate them. The hills got bigger and greener, with great, shadowy belts of trees on their tops, and the train increased its speed. Whistling shrilly at tunnels that blew soot back at us through the open windows, it carried us like a tidal wave toward the dark shore of combat for which we had been so long preparing. On and on, "D-Day calling, D-Day calling, D-Day calling."

At twilight time, we rattled into a village way station and stopped. Men got out of the forward cars, cursing and banging their gear, and soon an officer shouted in our window, "Everybody outside! This is it."

We untangled our harness and twisted into it and fell out on the platform, rubbing our eyes in the sudden glare. honiton, a sign said.

We looked around and saw a little brown hamlet poured unevenly down steep cobblestone streets. Not a civilian was in sight. It was so utterly deserted that it reminded me of Las Vegas at nine in the morning.

Machine guns and mortars on our shoulders, we staggered up a steep incline, turned a corner, climbed aboard a column of trucks waiting for us with tailgates down and motors running, and drove slowly out of town.

"Where are we going?" someone asked our driver.

"To this airfield five miles out."

"Oh . . ."

And that was that.

The long brown convoy snaked and whined and grated uphill with dryly shifting gears on a narrow, dusty road. Higher and higher we went, until at last we reached the topmost plateau, a man-made butte for runways. We stopped in a country lane bordered by stout hedgerows sweet with honeysuckle.

I looked over the tailgate and saw a half-timbered cottage down the way and a line of green pyramidal tents on the other side of the north hedge and suddenly recognized the place. We had bivouacked here before the last night jump a few weeks ago. It was simply a bivouac area then and a very good one, but nothing more. Now it was the marshaling area.

Entertainers and newsmen on deadline can talk all they want to about tension, but they wouldn't know tension if you dipped it in a bucket of water and hit them in the face with it—unless they had spent five days in a marshaling area, waiting to start the Invasion of Europe.

The only comparable sensation would be those last five days in the death house, when everybody is quiet and considerate and they feed you well and let you sleep late and write letters and give you little favors and comforts. The chaplain comes around to see you, the warden makes a speech, and maybe you write a letter to your mother.

If you have a mother and she still cares.

Or you write your girlfriend, who is probably going steady with somebody else by now, as ours were.

Finally there isn't anything more to do. You eat your last meal and put on your clothes and walk down the corridor to the big flash. You go out of the world the way you came in: surrounded by people and utterly alone.

That's the way it was in the marshaling area.

Ours included both the runways from which the C-47s and gliders were to take off and the tent cities pitched on their outskirts for the accommodation of waiting parachutists and glidermen. Troops were assembled here for greater control, absolute secrecy, and more intimate instruction in the tasks before them. They were briefed and issued maps and whatever special equipment or ammunition was necessary to complete their wardrobe. They loaded the bellies and doorways of C-47s with parapaks of bandoleers, mortar shells, and machine-gun ammunition, with K rations and D rations, medical supplies, and 75mm pack howitzers. Jeeps, trailers, and fully assembled 105s were lashed down in British Horsa and American CG4A gliders. Nobody visited other companies, nobody left the area for a mild-and-bitter. We walked in the shadows of the hedgerows and amused ourselves without the Red Cross or the U.S.O.

Since S.H.A.E.F., or something equally academic and Olympian, feared the consequences of German observation planes noticing new paths beaten across the meadows to the slit trenches, we were ordered to follow the U-shape of the hedges to the latrine, instead of cutting straight across. S.H.A.E.F. never explained how the Luftwaffe could miss hundreds of planes and gliders and scores of tents and still pick up a threadlike Indian trail through foot-long grass. But then, S.H.A.E.F. never explained a lot of things.

The trucks drove away and left us in the peaceful silence of a country twilight. The sun was fading, swallows glided home, and still we stood, hot, tired, sooty, and churlish. Our O.D.s itched. We were bleary from naps on the train and dusty from the truck ride. The snaps on our musette bags bit and twisted into our collarbones. Be done with it, be done with it! our patience cried. We've hurried up and waited for two long years. Now let's go!

"Is the coffee ready yet?" someone called in a loud voice to our right. A cuckoo whispered down the lane by the timbered cottage, and there was a clatter of pans out of sight behind the north hedge. Its wings and fuselage marked with broad white identification bands, a great, brown C-47 rustled over us with its flaps down and glided to a landing out of sight several hundred yards away.

Our captain, who had disappeared through an opening in the hedge, popped up again and took a stand on a mound in the opening. "On your feet, Headquarters Company!" he shouted. "Let's go!"

The food situation was incredible. No sooner had we relaxed on our camp cots in squad tents as close and hot as New York in August than a shrill cry of "Chow!" brought us out on the path with a clatter of utensils. Friendly, obliging Air Corps K.P.s loaded our tin dishes like garbage scows. It was a beautiful load: white bread (our first overseas), great gobs of melting butter, marmalade from an open keg swarming with yellowjackets, rice pudding and cream, all the coffee you can drink.

"Seconds? Why sure, help yourself, buddy."

"You're kidding?"

"No, no, we got orders to give you guys all you want."

The millennium had arrived.

While we were smoking and chatting and thinking about thirds in the hushed, drowsy lull afterward, the C.Q. put his head in the tent flaps and shouted something about a movie in fifteen minutes.

A rumor, we said. White bread and movies on the same day? Impossible.

But this was the marshaling area, where Air Corps engineers did all the chores and nothing was too good for paratroopers, so movies it was.

They were held in the base theater near the runways half a mile away, with the whole Regiment in attendance. The atmosphere was more like a cruise to Bermuda or a high-school graduation party than a prelude to Invasion. Friends shouted to friends in other companies and battalions; officers visited back and forth; Colonel Sink stood benignly up front like a headmaster, smiling at his boys, or people, as he called us.

The movie started with a Gothic title starkly emblazoned on a gigantic swastika. This was soundly hissed. The camera lowered its focus to a battalion commander below the swastika who was addressing his men in frantic, Hitlerian fashion from a platform in a hangar. He wore a parachutist's rimless bowl helmet and a long, spotted jump jacket. His pants were perfectly bloused over his boots. The sound track, which was in German, carried his guttural ravings to us. We hissed again and again.

When his speech was over, his men leaped to their feet, shot their right arms in the air, and shouted, "Heil Hitler!" Then they turned and trotted out to the planes.

Their mission, a narrator explained in English, was to seize and hold a bridge at Moerdyk, Holland, until an S.S. panzer division broke through and relieved them. We followed their progress closely, for the picture, like everything that had to do with foreign paratroopers, was fascinating.

The Germans adjusted their chutes and piled into their corrugated-iron JU-187s, which resembled the old Ford trimotors. As they climbed through the door, they waved to the cameraman and smiled with bravado, but they weren't fooling anybody. They were scared. We could see the fear in their eyes.

We saw it in their faces, too, when they stood up and hooked up, and in the jumpmaster's mouth as he leaned out the door and checked the country below for landmarks.

Suddenly he nudged the second man and pointed down. "There it is! There it is!" he seemed to say.

A wide river and a long black bridge rode slowly into view far below.

The Germans started jumping when the plane was on the other side of the river. Jumping, did I say? They swan-dived, spread their arms and sailed out like divers off a high board. We roared with laughter. It was a ludicrous sight.

They were less amusing on the ground. As the chutes floated down so soft and white and pretty, the Germans went into action. They ripped off their harness and ran fast across the flat meadows toward a village near the bridge. They were determined men who carried their machine pistols and machine guns as if they fully intended to use them. Dodging into holes and ditches and running madly from tree to tree and house to house, they showed a perfect knowledge of the theory of war and its practical application.

Soon the Germans had cleared the village, blasted the pillboxes at the bridge approaches, and captured some rather sheepish, obviously rehearsed Dutch soldiers in medieval black helmets. Then they dug in.

The Dutch counterattacked. Mortars burst on the houses and around the Germans' holes and thundered black and heavy on the bridge, but the invaders held. Finally the S.S. rattled across the river in black tanks. The paratroopers jumped wildly out of their holes and hugged them, and the picture was over. It ended as it had begun: with a swastika.

We thought of those burly German paratroopers in the long silence before the lights came on again and wondered if they would be waiting for us wherever we were going. Sensing our subdued mood, Colonel Sink got up and made a little speech that I will reproduce as best I can.

"Men," he said, wiping his face with his hand, "we've shown you this picture because we wanted you to see how the Germans fight. "Did you watch them closely? Did you see how fast they moved? How they used every bit of the available cover and concealment? Remember those things when you go into combat.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction
Prologue 1
The Jump into Normandy 3
The Windmills Were Wonderful 45
Our Home Was Secure 120
Hitler's Champagne 176
After the Fighting 205
Winding Down 240
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 20 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 21 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 26, 2013

    Another book by a member of Easy Company.

    If you are a fan of BOB miniseries, like me, you will find this book a good read. Webster tells it like it was for him. He was wounded and returned to Easy until the end of the war. His details might differ from other Easy Co. members who also wrote books on their experiences during WWII. It is always an interest to me to see how differently everyone saw the same action. Happy to have this in my growing collection.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2007

    I Just Really Liked Webster

    I almost didn't read this book but am so glad I did. The honesty of Webster was amazing. Courage isn't about not being scared and it isn't about being flawless. David Kenyon Webster comes across to me as genuine and that makes him unique. This was one of the absolute best books I have ever read. I'm glad he wrote it down because I have never seen anything like it before. I just really liked Webster.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2005

    Thank you vets

    What I liked about this book was that it was apparently written soon after the war. Many WW2 books were written by vets in their middle age years and seem to lose a little of the edgyness they actually felt at the time. Mr. Webster made it clear at times he wanted to be home, didnt know why they were there, hated the officers.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2005

    Amazing Writing

    This memoir is very insightful. Webster not only gives one a sense of what it was like to be a WWII soldier- he has this style where he slides you into the trench with him. The brrrrrrr of the machine gun, or the smack of a bullet- it's all here, waiting for the reader to enter. Simply amazing writing.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 24, 2002

    Parachute Infantry's Journey to Publication

    Those of you who have read Stephen Ambrose's book, Band of Brothers, will remember David Kenyon Webster as a passionate and articulate member of Easy Company, the unit also featured in HBO's "Band of Brothers" miniseries. Webster wrote Parachute Infantry shortly after the end of World War II; it languished during the post-war years, when memoirs of regular soldiers were of little interest to publishers. After Webster's untimely death in 1961 at the age of 39, his widow continued to believe in the manuscript and approached publishers without success. After the late Stephen Ambrose came upon the manuscript while researching Band of Brothers, he recommended it to Louisiana State University Press. Parachute Infantry: An American Paratrooper's Memoir of D-Day and the Fall of the Third Reich, with an introduction by Stephen E. Ambrose, was published by LSU Press in 1994, just in time for the 50th anniversary of D-Day. The book received excellent reviews. Last year, Webster's widow, the long-time champion of Parachute Infantry, approached Dell Publishing, a division of Random House. Dell was a likely choice: it had published a mass market paperback of Webster's shark book, Myth and Maneater, the Story of the Shark, when the movie "Jaws" was released. She felt that Parachute Infantry could find a wider audience now, given the interest in HBO's "Band of Brothers." Dell was interested, and went back to the original manuscript to produce a revised and expanded edition of the book. In October 2002, this new edition of Parachute Infantry was published. It features over 100 pages of previously unpublished material, including 20 letters home, and restores some of the grittier language and actual names that were used in Webster's original manuscript. If you want to know more about the men of Easy Company, as seen through the eyes of one young private in his early 20s, read this book. Webster takes you through training at Toccoa, through jumps on D-Day and in Operation Market Garden in Holland, and to the last days of the war in Germany. It is an excellent companion piece to Band of Brothers (the book or DVD/video), and a powerful, unforgettable book on its own.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 26, 2012

    Anonymous

    Puts you in the view of a parchute infantru soldier. An amazingly written book

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2012

    Good book

    This is an intresting look at the 506 by a man who had no love affair with war. Very honest and stark ...

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2009

    Deliveries of orders

    I am very pleased with Barnes & Noble in mailing out my orders in a timely time. The books go to a prison, there has never been any trouble in the inmate getting his books. My inmate has other inmates ask where I order my books from as they were having trouble in gettng their orders delivered or accepted, I have told them to deal only with Barnes & Noble, and that they have a wonderful system for checking on how the order is going.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 15, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    From "Band of Brothers"

    Webster writes of his war time in Europe. Not the macho type, he spells out his fears and anxieties. His anger and frustration. Of his courage and lack of it. His skill and lack of it. Glad to have read Webster's war memoirs. Publishers had rejected his writings because exaggerated war novels were in demand. Some way into the book, I realize that he was part of the 'Band of Brothers' from the HBO mini series.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 6, 2008

    Good stuff

    Webster writes of his war time in Europe. Not the macho type, he spells out his fears and anxieties. His anger and frustration. Of his courage and lack of it. His skill and lack of it. Glad to have read Webster's war memoirs. Publishers had rejected his writings because exaggerated war novels were in demand. Some way into the book, I realize that he was part of the 'Band of Brothers' from the HBO mini series.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 9, 2003

    Excellent, a great read.

    I have read many books on World War II. From Band Of Brothers, to the Longest Day, to Wild Blue ( all of which were very good ). But never before have I been transported to the battlefields of Europe like I was when I read Parachute Infantry. The detail is extrodinary. This is a must read for people who want to understand what it was like to be in the line of fire in WWII.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2003

    My favorite book yet

    This book is by far my favorite book (not just non-fiction). With the style he uses (lots of dialogue) you can almost swear you were there. If I didn't know that this book was non-fiction, I would think that it was a novel. Great Book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2001

    Added Bonus

    This book was an added bonus to a book that I have just finished, 'Band of Brothers,' which discusses E Company of the 506th PIR, 101st Airbourne Division. Ambrose has done an excellent job retelling stories of other Easy members integrated with historical fact in 'Brothers,' but by his not experiencing the action and the perhaps faded memories (interviews done in the '90s) of other E Company veterans, Webster's narrative, written shortly after the war, offers a fresh description of events which may have been forgotten over the years.

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    Posted November 25, 2009

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    Posted January 6, 2014

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    Posted December 7, 2008

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    Posted April 20, 2012

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    Posted June 6, 2012

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    Posted March 15, 2010

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