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Parachute Infantry: An American Paratrooper's Memoir of D-Day and the Fall of the Third Reich is available from:

The New York Times:

Webster left this gutsy, sometimes bemused and sometimes angry memoir behind…it bites and hangs on.


Booklist:

In this first-rate, skillfully written soldier's story, Webster achieves a perfectly pitched, Sad Sack sarcasm that is an authentic witness to the combat experience. The best of 1994's D-Day anniversary books.


Eugenia C. Kiesling, in The Journal of Mississippi History:


….[O]ne could get the impression that David Kenyon Webster's Parachute Infantry is just another World War II memoir, another tale of training for war, interpersonal relationships with the units of a melting-pot army, and the "experience of killing and getting shot at (and hit)" (xiv). But what makes Parachute Infantry so interesting are the many ways in which Webster diverges from formula.

For this is a highly unusual work... Webster does not describe the training that prepared him for war and rarely introduces his wartime comrades. He leaves the reader to guess at the decisions that led him from Harvard College to the airborne infantry and that prompted him to write this gripping narrative. It is only with the briefest of preliminaries that the reader jumps behind Utah Beach with Webster and the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division. Nor does Webster explain why he begins his narrative with D-Day, shifts abruptly from liberating a bottle of cognac in Normandy to the regiment's August 1944 memorial service in England, jumps back into Europe with the 101st's landing at Eindhoven, and then devotes almost a third of the book not to combat but to the occupation of Germany.

In a less skillfully written book, such omissions would be merely frustrating, but Webster's unaffected craftsmanship imbues them instead with meaning and leads one to reflect about how much one takes for granted in a more conventional memoir. The reader seeking insight into what the war was really like will appreciate Parachute Infantry for the honesty with which Webster describes his state–"gutless, gibbering blob of fear" as he clung to the static lines before the jump (27), his solitary bewilderment in a Normandy swamp, his relief at uniting with others from his division, and his speedy disillusionment with the senior noncommissioned officer's refusal to lead the group into battle.

Later, in the Netherlands, Webster was hit in the calf by a bullet from a machine gun. Again, the detail is fascinating–embarrassment at this clichéd shout of "They got... me!," delight at a "million dollar wound," fear as he raced the German artillery rounds in his haste to reach the safety of a hospital, and greed as he stopped to grab a souvenir German poncho during his retreat (113-15). It can be no accident that what is missing from this episode is what the reader would most like to know. Why did a man who had expressed a desperate desire to escape the war "now and forever more" (119) and who could have parlayed his wound into a return to the United States choose instead to return to combat? There is a wealth of unexpressed emotion behind Webster's "I wanted to come back to the outfit and yet I didn't want to come back" (121). But Webster lets the reader draw his/her own conclusions.

Strong passions lie behind Webster's economical prose, and nothing angers him more than the army's "chickenshit" behavior and the officers responsible for it. Though he claimed only once to have wanted actually to kill a superior, he has more angry words for them than for the Germans. The hostility towards the officers and lack of sentimentality towards his fellow soldiers ring true. This is an unflattering assessment of a victorious army, an army that fought "…because the outfit's fighting, it doesn't matter who, not because we're a bunch of knights on a goddamn crusade" (20). With the crusade over, the tenuous discipline of the citizen soldier deteriorated under the impact of captured liquor, handguns, and motor vehicles.

No one will better appreciate Webster's beautifully written narrative than the student of the war memoir as a genre. Composed shortly after the war and untouched after the author's death in 1961, the book begs to be compared to those published after the memories of the Second World War had begun to reflect the sensibilities of the Cold War and Vietnam eras.


David L. Smiley of the North Carolina Historical Review:

…David Webster may have been the only Harvard English literature student who made combat jumps into France on D-Day and into the Netherlands in September. He has told a story rich in detail and human interest. Contemplating what lay ahead for him as the day of battle approached, he thought, "You go out of the world the way you came in-surrounded by people and utterly alone." He carried more than one hundred pounds of equipment, he reported, and to defeat ten thousand Germans he had two bandoliers (of ammunition) and three hand grenades.

Webster's contempt for the military life, and of the clichés of honor and patriotism the leaders employed to incite the troops to battle…was as great as his respect for this buddies and their bravery in battle. "Nothing I had ever done before could compare with the feeling of belonging that I had for the 506th," he wrote of his regiment. But the army? Petty dictatorship, he called it, "prison with passes. Who wants to spend their life in prison?"


Kirkus Reviews:

It is a mystery why these splendid reminiscences of a gentleman ranker who served with the US Army's 101st Airborne Division in Europe during the climatic months of WW II were rejected by book publishers following their completion in the late 1940s. However, the frequently sardonic, dead-honest text proves well worth waiting for.

A Harvard student before his induction, Webster signed on with the parachute infantry, a posting that earned him the privilege of dropping behind German lines early on D-Day, long hours before Allied forces launched their coastal assault on France's Normandy Peninsula. Having survived the invasion and its aftermath, the author made his second and last combat jump into Holland for the Arnhem campaign, during which he sustained a leg wound that took him out of action for nearly five months. Rejoining his unit at the start of 1945, Webster helped chase the battered but still deadly Wehrmacht through the Rhineland and into Bavaria. At war's end he and his comrades-in-arms were drinking Hitler's champagne in Bertchesgaden, the Fuhrer's fabled Alpine redoubt. Occupation duty soon palled, however, and the author pulled all available strings to get himself stateside for demobilization. Webster, who went on to become a reporter with the Wall Street Journal, penned his memoir shortly after discharge, drawing mainly on letters he had written from Europe. A permanent private with the soul of a short-timer, he had many complaints about the chain of command, in particular its propensity for thoroughly briefing the troops before any action and leaving them in the dark once the shooting started. He also understood that the ties that bind men in battle have more to do with brotherhood and its obligations than either God or country.

Webster's words with ring a resonant bell with the legions of GI's who rather enjoyed soldiering under fire but despised the military for its chickenshit rigidity.


Clay Blair in The Washington Post:

…Stephen Ambrose, the indefatigable lecturer, military historian and biographer, published Band of Brothers, a combat chronicle from Normandy to VE-Day of E company, 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division. One of Ambrose's sources was an unpublished memoir and the letters of…David Kenyon Webster. Ambrose wrote an introduction to the Webster memoir, Parachute Infantry, and Louisiana State University Press…published it.

A 21-year-old English literature major at Harvard University who aspired to be a writer when he enlisted in the parachute infantry in 1943, Webster jumped into Normandy and Holland with the 101st. In both campaigns, he was wounded but recovered and returned to serve in E company until his discharge in 1946…

Ambrose was right to urge publication of this almost-forgotten memoir. It is beautifully written and perfectly evokes life and battle in a parachute infantry company. Webster's account of the night jump into Normandy is absolutely superb…This book ranks right up there with the 1951 classic, Those Devils in Baggy Pants, written by another enlisted man (of the 504th regiment of the 82nd division), Ross. S. Carter, who died shortly after the war.

…I join Ambrose in recommending this book to anyone of any age with an interest in the exploits of the airborne forces and ground combat in the European Theater of Operations, as told by a truly gifted narrator.

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Copyright © 2002 Kenyon Webster