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Posted on Oct 11, 2006 in Books and Movies, Front Page Features

Parachute Infantry – Book Review

By Jeff Cherpeski

parachute.jpgBook Review: Parachute Infantry: An American Paratrooper’s Memoir of D-Day and the Fall of the Third Reich by David Kenyon Webster. Delta.

There are many memoirs of the Band of Brothers, Easy Company of the 506th, 101st Airborne. Many tell of the rough training, the harsh realities of war and the camaraderie that can grow between men in combat, but few do so with the language skills of a Harvard educated English major. Parachute Infantry by David Kenyon Webster is the story of that individual. Written in the years following the war, but wasn’t published until after his death in 1961.

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For the reader looking for the tactics and sweeping strategy, this book isn’t for you, but if you want a genuine story of the experiences of an individual trooper, this is a good choice. Webster (played by Eion Bailey in the Band of Brothers mini-series) tells of the hours of boredom interspersed with the sheer terror of combat in a very readable style. His education comes through to the reader in the descriptive language that effectively paints a picture of the life of the average paratrooper in the European Theater of Operations.

Webster jumped at Normandy and Market-Garden, being wounded in both campaigns, and gives some real insight into the operations from the ground-level. He describes the anxiety of waiting to board the plane for the jump into Normandy, yet as he gets on the plane his fears leave as a resignation of his fate grows. The hours spent wandering after the drop, and the randomness of the people encountered can be almost humorous except for the seriousness of the moment. After his experience in Normandy, he eloquently expresses his feelings as the regiment holds a memorial for those lost. His descriptions of the fallen help the reader to view these names as the men that they were.

While he was involved in combat, and writes of those moments, he doesn’t focus on that, rather he writes of the experience of living in the mud, trying to scrounge enough food and the moments of fun with others. The author’s recollections of living in Haguenau during the first few months of 1945 show how the combat-hardening of the troops could be shed and the youth that they gave up would come shining through. Incidents such as the soldier that was on the third-floor toilet, running down the stairs to the basement with his pants around his ankles, as he sought cover during an artillery attack show that while death was a constant threat, the troops were able to find humor in just about anything.

While the memoirs are well written and insightful, the true strength of the book is the letters that are compiled in the back. Webster wrote these letters to his family while he was in combat, and the emotions that are not readily apparent in the rest of the book, really are apparent. These very intimate letters reveal the fears and his idealism in the crusade to free Europe. The fact that Webster volunteered for combat, and that he gave up his opportunity to serve in the rear echelons also lend some real credence to his idealism. He wanted to do something that would allow him to help rid the world of the evil of the Third Reich, and he wanted to be on the sharp end in doing that.

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