This 1941 movie was filmed with members of the 501st Parachute Battalion performing the actual jump scenes. It is a pre-Pearl Harbor propaganda film about young Americans, from various social backgrounds, who undergo parachute training at Fort Benning prior to becoming paratroopers.
The story is about 3 guys who enlist as volunteers in the Parachute Battalion, which was founded a year earlier, as you may have read in the previous post. By then, the Battalion was stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia.
From the signing of the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 in the United States and American interest of military matters, Hollywood provided a rash of films in 1941 about the various branches of the US Armed Forces, both serious and comic.
Fun fact: he founder of the American parachute troops General William C. Lee doubled for the lead actor Robert Preston in some scenes.
This magazine from November-December 1940 is the earliest one I have about the beginning of the parachute troops. The feature article is called ‘The Tentative Parachute Battalion’.
Here we can see the earliest parachutist uniforms and equipment. Most parachutists in the photos wear HBT coveralls with a white name tape over the left breast pocket, and they wear a khaki twill overseas cap without piping and with the 29th Infantry Regiment distinguished unit insignia (DUI). This regiment supplied the first volunteer troops for this experimental unit. This unit was called the 501st Parachute Battalion, out of which the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment aka ‘Geronimo’ would be formed.
The so-called Test Platoon was established on June 26, 1940. The article copy doesn’t mention it, but these photographs would have been taken at Camp Toccoa, Georgia. It wasn’t until later that the unit moved to Fort Benning, where the bulk of WWII paratroopers were to be trained.
We also see T-4 parachutes (note the large square shaped reserve packs).
On the last page we see a very early .30 cal. machine gun with a barrel shroud with slots rather than round ventilation holes.
Last year, I already did a post on this after buying a Drago-made badge. I received some comments on this and a lot of valuable research from Bob Wagner, himself a 509th PIR veteran.
So I put everything together info one article. It covers the origins of the insignia, how the American paratroopers came to wear it, and the different manufacturers.
On this photo, you see my first badge on the left, which turned out to be a post-war Drago badge, and a wartime badge made by Chobillon. In the artice you will find tips on how to recognize the differnt types of wartime badges.
In 2009, I first wrote about John M. Beatty’s purple heart. When visiting the Margraten American Cemetary I could not find his grave, even though I knew my family had tended to it when she was young. There are crosses of other Beatty’s at Margraten, but I soon realized none of them was his. Earlier this year, I got this beautiful book “The Faces of Margraten”, but his name does not appear in the index either. So, it was time to start digging to find out more.
I took a trial subscription for ancestry.com and newspapers.com, hoping I could find out more about him. Most of all, what happened with his grave. Apparently, it was at the provisional cemetery at Margraten originally, but his body was exhumed and repatriated to California.
I also found out some other interesting stuff, but there’s still a lot of information missing about his service life. Especially how he ended up in the 17th Airborne, just prior to Operation Varsity.
If you have any books or other references about the 69th Infantry Division or the 17th Airborne Division, 513th PIR, can you help me?
Chris Brown sent me these photos of jump wings with a screw-back. Something I had never come across. He tells me these were worn on helmet liners by troopers on guard duty, parades, and ceremonial events. They are full size, but with one threaded post. As you can see, these aren’t modified; they were produced this way for this soecific purpose. He says he acquired several like this from an estate in Vermont. They were accompanied by a sterling “GP” marked wing. They are very scarce and it was also the first time Chris had seen any in his 50 years of collecting.
Chris Chettle from the UK sent me photos of this escape compass I have never seen before.
This escape compass is 15mm wide and only seems to have one big white arrow with a luminous paint tip. The glass has a beveled edge and is flat, not domed. The brass casing looks similar to the other British escape compasses, with a small dimple at the bottom, from the metal turning tool, no doubt. The brass casing has been crimped around the glass cover.
If anyone has more information about this variation, or if you have another type of escape compass that is not yet in my article, please send it over.
In a post on July 2015, I first wrote about SSgt. John (‘Jack’) Urbank after buying his binoculars. I haven’t been able to find out a lot more about him since then, except for the well known packing list for the Normandy jump that has been published by various websites:
The binocular case clearly dates from after Normandy, because he was not yet a Staff Sergeant at the time.
Gary Grand’s family tree
This summer, his cousin Gary Grand contacted me and shared some of his family tree research with me.
Jack was dropped on D-Day right in the middle of Drop Zone C around Hiesville, France. It turns out that there was an anti-aircraft battery very close to their drop zone. The C-47s on either side of his plane were shot down, killing many of G Company’s paratroopers. The only reason Jack’s plane made it was that the pilot pulled off of the drop run to avoid the incoming fire. The pilot then did the unthinkable and reversed course and went on a second run in the opposite direction. This time the drop was made and Jack ended up in the middle of a cow pasture. He spent the first day just trying to reunite with his unit.
As stated in the previous post, Jack was not the jumpmaster on D-Day. This was Lt. Norman Barker, who was the Executive Officer of G Company.
The pilot, Jesse Harrison
The pilot’s name was Lt. Jesse Harrison, who later earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and would later meet Jack again.
Jack and Jesse ended up meeting again in a hospital in the UK. Jesse had been shot down over the drop zone in The Netherlands, but was able to save all on board and make his drop. He was badly burned and it was not expected that he would live. I have different stories of what happend to Jack. One version has him wounded, his hands so badly burned that he could not even load his rifle. He did not want to leave his unit, but he was ordered out. He ended up in the same ward as Jesse and helped nurse Jesse through the worst of his wounds. And it says he was sent back to his unit just prior to Bastogne. The other version is more prosaic: he was not wounded but had scabies, requiring him to be hospitalized during the Bastogne operation. Maybe one version doesn’t even exclude the other, but I haven’t been able to determine this for sure.
G Company mortar squad members
Jack was one of just 5 of the original members of G Company to finish the war. Gary says he believes the overall casualty rate was about 85% for G Company.
Reunited after the war
The Akron Beacon Journal of Sunday, February 24 1963 has Jack and some other members of his mortar squad attend the opening night of ‘The Longest Day‘ at the local Strand Theater. A picture has them posing with an 81mm mortar in the theater lobby. When interviewed, Urbank recalled “I dropped about 5 miles from the zone where I should have landed. When we had fought our way to the beach, I found it hard to believe there were so many ships in the world”. He also remembered the use of crickets and the ‘Flash’ and ‘Thunder’ challenge.
On June 7th, 1964 Jack appeared in the same newspaper on the occasion of the 20th anniversary commemorations of D-Day. Some interesting details gained from that interview are that their staging area was in Berkshire County, near Newmarket in England and he tells how they all got indian-style haircuts the night before June 5th because they were told they would be safer that way if they were wounded. Interestingly, Jack says that he was the jumpmaster. Other than that, the interview mostly matches the other sources. After landing, he says he couldn’t manage to reassemble his rifle because he forgot where he had put the trigger housing, but he did find it later.
Jesse and Jack reunited many years later after the war and the two visited each other several times before Jack passed in 2005. You can see several photos of this below:
I am glad for Gary and also Dan Coy (Jack’s son in law) sharing their information that would have been impossible to find otherwise. I tried looking up more information about Lt. Norman Barker, the other trooper mentioned as the jump master at D-Day, but no luck there.
Let me finish with a link to another article on the Trigger Time forum about the adventures of Lt. Jesse Harrison. His name is spelled differently, and the article mentions Urbank as the jump master, but it is a worthwhile article. https://www.101airborneww2.com/troopcarrier3.html
Last weekend, spurred by the rebroadcast of Band of Brothers on TV, I was going through some reference books about Operation Market Garden and I came across several pictures of General Maxwell D. Taylor,
I don’t know why I never noticed this before: his M43 jacket has cuffs with 2 buttons instead of 1. The original cuff has been replaced entirely by a wider one with 2 buttons. I looked it up online, but can’t find anything about this particular jacket, but I did find confirmation that the airborne general was a tall man.
Does anyone know more about this jacket? Did he also have an M1942 uniform with extended cuffs? Later pictures from Vietnam show him with rolled-up sleeves.
I came across this New York Times obituary of General Taylor from April 21, 1987 that is worth sharing here. It briefly explains his carreer, and touches upon his daring reconnaissance for a possible jump on Rome, how he accidentally became a paratrooper, and went on to command the 101st Airborne Division.
Jaime Abreu sent me photos of a USA LITE crookneck flashlight that doesn’t have the TL-122-A markings, but instead has the USA LITE on both sides where you would have the TL-122-A designation. According to the gentleman he bought it from:
“This is one the earliest, if not THE EARLIEST, Brass-bodied Flashlights supplied to the USMC and the Army, designated TL-122-A by both USA LITE and EVEREADY. This is NOT an example made for the civilian market or a post-war production, but one of the first QMC Contracts that USA LITE rushed out before the model number ‘TL-122-A’ was required to be moulded into the cast alloy Angle-Head.”
It’s the first I heard about this, but I am inclined to go along with the idea that the branded versions pre-date the TL-122-A marked bodies. Indeed, they would have required a different die to press or cast them. If anyone has any evidence or stories to confirm or deny this, you are welcome.
I found this commercial booklet from the Reliance Manufacturing Company, a parachute manufacturer. It is not dated, but from the text inside it is clear that it must be from 1941 or 1942 at the latest. It discusses the exploits of the Russians and Germans and it speaks of the newly formed ‘winged infantry’ and speculates on how this force might be employed in the war.
Fun fact: Reliance also manufactured underwear shorts for the Army.