Saving Private Webster: A Review of Parachute Infantry by David Kenyon Webster (Part 3 of 4)

David Kenyon Webster died tragically and mysteriously on the 9th or 10th of September 1961. Webster had gone shark fishing for the day on the 9th in his small boat. He had a fascination with sharks and had written a manuscript about them published after his death as Myth and Maneater: The Story of the Shark. He did not return that evening as expected. His wife phoned the USCG. In a search the next day they found the boat but David Kenyon Webster was never found. Did he accidentally fall overboard? Or did he jump overboard for a brief swim and somehow drown? Or did he choose to jump overboard and drown?

A whisper of suicide seems to accompany the final days of David Kenyon Webster. Having suffered from depression in my own life, now thankfully controlled by medications, and having read and re-read Kenyon’s memoirs, I get the sense he suffered from bouts of depression which easily could have gotten worse as he got older and would have been exacerbated by some of his war experiences. I’m not saying that he did commit suicide. I have no idea. Just a gut feeling.

Because Webster was from a socially prominent background, and a year shy of graduating in English literature from Harvard, he was a wonderful writer, capturing detail and emotion which less skillful writers could not do. These things alone made him different. Yet Webster had another unusual distinction, he spoke fluent German. He wasn’t from a German background. He had taken German in school and must have really studied hard since German is a very hard language to learn. His abilities were often needed both to question prisoners and deal with the German civilians once Webster’s unit moved into Germany. A fascinating man. The kind of man one wishes one had known.

More about World War Two in his own words:

Being under intense German artillery fire for several hours:

No wonder men went crazy in a shelling. It was the worst experience on earth…I dissolved and wanted to die. Each salvo came closer; this was the closest of all.

After being wounded and sent to a rear dressing station:

I rolled up my .45 (pistol) in my identification scarf and hid it in my jacket pocket, to keep it from being stolen by the rear echelon medics.

Replacements:

Of the four, Lamb appeared to be the most competent, probably because he was a Southerner, and I never met a Southerner who wouldn’t fight.

(I’m from the South so I had to put this in.)

Sex with German girls:

Although it was forbidden by the clean-minded young men at SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces) – farther in the rear than ever before – some of us even fraternized with the local Madchen. Kommen Sie here, baby!

After the Nazi surrender:

The Third Reich was a cancer on the face of Western man. I was glad now that I had played a part, however small, in helping to remove that cancer…I was only sorry that I had not shot more of them.

On his Company CO Captain Winters:

A big, strong young man with sandy hair, he had won the Distinguished Service Cross at Normandy.

On his platoon sergeant, ‘Wild Bill Guarnere’:

…calm and fearless…decorated with the Silver Star in Normandy…

Their medic, Doc Roe:

…a fine medic, Roe, who had a warm, brave heart.

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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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