Saving Private Webster: A Review of Parachute Infantry by David Kenyon Webster (Part 2 of 4)

As part of his campaign to annoy the army, Webster enjoyed provoking ‘green’ officers with no combat experience since he had plenty and lots of it was up close and personal. Webster wore the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, a coveted decoration in the army then and now, a purple heart, a Normandy invasion patch, and a European theater campaign ribbon with three battle stars proclaiming him a veteran of three major battles. He was an experienced combat soldier and he knew it. Order him to do something stupid and one would receive a withering glare before “yes sir”. Webster also collected a bronze star for valor although the men did not put much stock in decorations such as that since lots of people who never got within one hundred miles of the Germans had them.

Most important about this memoir, Parachute Infantry, is that Webster wrote a lot of this memoir right after the war when the events were still very fresh in his mind. Most memoirs by veterans have been written in their senior years when the past has assumed a golden glow. Webster’s memoir is bitter in many ways, angry and filled with invective against the stupidity of the army and most of the men in it, especially most of the officers.

To anyone who still believes in the myth of “the Greatest Generation,” I commend this book because he tells it like it was. Looting? Every chance they could, especially in Germany. Stealing chickens and cows from civilians so they could have fresh food? Of course. Scared? Most of the time. Had fun killing Germans? Yes, he did. Skipping formations as often as possible, drunkenness, whores? Yes, yes, and yes. Why wasn’t he put in the guardhouse? Because he was a fighter, a killer, and there were not many of those even in elite units.

In Webster’s own words:

Just before jumping into Normandy:

The muscle and fiber melted from my legs. It was all I could do to remain upright and not dissolve into a gibbering, gutless blob of fear. Too weak to stand, I clung to my static line with both hands. I felt like crying, screaming, killing myself.

The next day:

While I watched the smoke, a German jeep popped out of it and whirled boldly through the village. It was flying a big Red Cross flag and carried two wounded Germans in stretchers in back…The Jeep was commandeered; the driver, a medic, was shot for carrying a pistol; and the two wounded men were left by the road to die.

Same day:

The (German) battalion commander crawled out of his CP on his hands and knees with tears in his eyes begging not to be shot, for a particularly vicious and not overly brave person in our company was killing some wounded prisoners nearby.

A month later:

…we were always hungry, for neither British nor American combat rations were enough to fill a man.

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/

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