Last week I picked up a second hand copy of Parachute Infantry, a memoir from D-Day to the Fall of the Third Reich by David Kenyon Webster (Delta, New York 2002). I finished it in six days. Webster was a private in the 506th Airborne, part of the 101st Division. The book begins with preparations for the jump on 6 June and ends in 1945, when Kenyon returns to civilian life. The memoir was a key source for Stephen Ambrose's Band of Brothers and Webster is played in the HBO series by Eion Bailey.
The main engagements covered in the book are D Day, Market Garden and Haguenau. There is a fascinating section about the last months of the war in Germany, when the 506th occupies Berchtesgarten and enjoys the fruits of victory.
Get hold of a copy if you haven't already read it. The descriptions of combat are vivid, but the portrayal of general life in the front line is the real gem. The book brings out the close attachments between the men in the unit, their frustration with Army 'chickenshit' and the pettiness of some officers. There is a gripping chapter about a patrol to capture German prisoners at Haguenau, with tension building over days of preparation as the elements are put in place. Webster's reflections on the British army are interesting. He has respect for the bravery of the men, especially the British Airborne, and he praises the efficiency of British artillery. But he accuses British armour of inflexibility and lack of initiative during Market Garden, as well as a reluctance to throw everything at the enemy. He maintains that had Patton been in command, Arnhem would have been relieved. He has warm praise for British army tea.
The memoir doesn't flinch from the grim aspects of war. Throughout, Webster and his comrades come across as normal young men, doing their best in abnormal conditions. Despite the darker incidents they witness and the moral compromises involved in life on the front line, this is a thoroughly uplifting memoir.
I'm not sure the book is still in print, but there is an extract on this website, as well as some of his letters home: http://www.davidkenyonwebster.com/index.html.
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