By the Luck of the Draw

paratrooper, wwII, soldier and his girlfriend

“On leave,”
Neville and Marcia, 1944

I have no recollection of my dad reading stories to me from a book when I was a child, but he did tell me stories verbally.  The older I got, the more descriptive they became – about his poor, fatherless boyhood; his teenage years smoking and hanging out with the other kids wearing zoot suits and listening to jazz; his courtship of my mom when they traveled to New York City to listen to Frank Sinatra.

As I got older, my dad talked more openly of his experiences as a paratrooper during WWII, and the wild stories of training camp, and then fighting in France and Germany.I never thought about how these stories set a moral tone for me, a tale of life’s lessons, but now, looking back, I realize that my life’s view was definitely influenced by my dad’s stories.

THE PARATROOPER SPEAKS

We didn’t really know what we were doing, despite the training we received for a few months in Georgia. I mean, we were wild boys, really, most of us just 18. Full of aggression, cocky as hell, anxious to get to Europe and kill those Krauts. That’s how we talked about it – “Kill Krauts!” Of course, that’s how we were trained to think of our job, once we got to the other side of the ocean.

I wanted to be in the navy – that was my dream, or if that didn’t work, to become an air force pilot. But I discovered something about myself that I hadn’t known for the first 17 years of my life – I was color blind.

I had had no idea that I was missing reds and blues and greens.

But the navy, and the air force, diagnosed my disorder after their preliminary tests, so I went for the next best challenge: paratrooping.

Another thing I didn’t know about myself until I started to train as a paratrooper – I was acrophobic – scared of heights. I kept that secret to myself during the entire time I fought in WWII.

I don’t think the pilots quite knew what they were doing either, color blind or not. They’d shout ‘JUMP NOW’ to the paratroopers as we flew high paratrooper, WWII, soldierabove a foreign land, and so many of my buddies got stuck in trees. Some died that way, because they’d fall in the middle of a forest.

Happened to me several times – nothing scarier than falling, hard, on top of a tremendous tree, heavy white fabric covering you, while the tree branches pierced you as you tried desperately to get out of the shoot without suffocating.

One time, I was stuck good, frantically cutting the white shoot off me, so relieved to get the heavy cloth away from my face.

But the first thing I saw scared me so much, I wet my pants.

A German soldier stood tall, at the base of the tree, with his gun aimed right at my head.

I knew I was dead. My life was gone, at 18 years of age.

I closed my eyes, heard the shot. Waited for heaven, or hell, or whatever would come next.

Nothing.

Once I realized I was still breathing, I put my hand out and felt my chest, my arms, my head. Then I opened my eyes.

The German soldier was down, dead, below me. An American paratrooper stood five yards away, his gun still pointing at the spot.

He saved my life.

But that poor German kid. Couldn’t have been older than me. By the luck of the draw, he was dead.

And I wasn’t.

37 thoughts on “By the Luck of the Draw

  1. I found myself holding my breath near the end there! Great family history. I appreciate reading it. Fortunately, my dad turned 18 just as the war ended, so he never saw combat, but he’d spent a year or two in cadet training, including paratroop training. I remember him telling me about the high tower they had to climb in order to practice jumping with their ‘chute.🙂

  2. Thank you so much for sharing your father’s story. Mine did not talk about it, well to us. What he did do was write a suitcase of letters to my mom. Now it is like he is talking from the grave. It has been an eye opening experience, blogging about his letters and he has not even made it overseas yet. I have been blogging them for 29 weeks now and I have learned so much about my dad and WWII.

  3. Pam, I’ve been wanting to let you know how much I’ve enjoyed your blogposts all summer and it’s taken me this long! This is a powerful testimony. In the UK we have a long running TV series called Who Do You Think You Are? in which actors, writers & co. unearth their family history. I find it so fascinating, and just the other day watched an episode with the comedian Hugh Dennis both of whose grandfathers fought in WWI and could never bring themselves to speak of it. How little we’ve learned, I sometimes think. Thank you for this.

    • I’m thrilled that you’ve been enjoying my blog this summer. THANK YOU for reading them.

      Yes, we’re quickly losing those who sacrificed so much when they fought in WWII. Their stories are incredible in their humility and humanity.

  4. How precious, to have your dad tell you about his life. A poignant story. My dad never talked about the war, until now, age 94. He was saved by chance from being sent to Russia by the German army. I wrote about it an a recent blog post, after I went to Germany to help him move to a smaller place.
    I came here via mywithershins – seems we’ve been nominated for the same award🙂

    • You have a lovely blog, and I appreciate the way you think and write. Openly. Honestly. Your post on your dad and his move was so much more than that – on father/daughter relationships, on sacrifice, on giving up independence.

      Thanks for dropping by here – and congrats on your award. :+)

  5. Hi Pam, thank you so much for sharing that story. I can see the scene vividly and feel what it must have been like for an 18-year-old boy to stay alive through pure happenstance, while another 18-year-old boy died for the same reason. My dad, who must have been a few years younger than yours, missed seeing any “action” during WWII. He turned 18 in June of 1944 and was sent with his fellow Navy “seabees” to the island of Tinian in the South Pacific, where, according to him, their service consisted entirely of building latrines. But he had photos of the Enola Gay with smiling boys posed all around it. The island where he was posted was the launch base for the plane that went on to drop the Bomb and change the world forever.

    • Thank you. When my dad told a story, you were THERE, in the fields or the trees, or the French barn with shells bombarding you. I wish I had recorded him when he spoke, but writing his memories down is the next best thing.

  6. Pam – very well done – I, of course, heard the stories over time – when I was just his girlfriend, the story was how great and exciting it was!! and he sure was a good looking paratrooper mom

  7. This post brought tears to my eyes. Imagining how close your dad came to death. Imagining the death of that German boy. Imagining how it feels to land in a tree, all poked and afraid. Another good story, roughwighting. It’s good that your dad shared with you.

    • Thank you – hearing your summary in succinct words gave ME goosebumps – it took years for my dad to relay the story, and I imagine that story and more untold ones are the reasons he woke up with nightmares the rest of his life.

  8. It is commendable to see someone else posting their father’s action. I try to push more people to do so before all the stories are lost. My father, 11th A/B 1943-46, is at: pacificparatrooper.wordpress.com

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