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

Excerpt from Chapter 2 of Parachute Infantry by David Kenyon Webster:

"On the road, on the road!" Rader cried. "Let's go." I stood up, buckled my cartridge belt, and put the bayonet on my rifle.

"Five yards between men. Get a move on, Webster!" I fell in behind some men from F Company who were moving out ahead of us. It was nice to have somebody between me and the enemy.

We walked briskly east on the sandy path through the pine trees until we reached the main road, which ran north and south from Eindhoven to Arnhem. Half a mile away, we saw the tile roofs and big steeple of the village of Zon, our initial objective. The 1st Battalion had to secure the jump field for glider landings and aerial resupply and hold the bridge over the Wilhelmina Canal at Zon while the 2nd and 3rd Battalions went south to Eindhoven.

Nobody came out to greet us at Zon. Silent and deserted, the village had an ominous air about it that made me click my rifle off safety. I eyed all the windows of the houses ahead. A rustling of paper flashed through the air high above me. Ignoring it, I continued to follow close after F Company.

"Jesus Christ, Webster!" Rader exclaimed. "Don't you know what this is?"

I shook my head without taking my eyes off the houses. Something was going to happen very soon, I could tell, and I didn't like it.

"That's an 88."

"Oh? Didn't sound like one to me."

"Wise up, boy."

"Hell."

Evidently the same cannon that had sent the airbursts, killed the crew chief, and knocked down one or two planes was still in action, probably near the canal bridge. The thought of it failed to worry me, for I was intent only on staying close to F Company. As the lead scout in E Company I was now the connecting point between the two units. I was more afraid of an ambush in the village than of the 88. I knew that the civilians wouldn't be lying low if they didn't expect a battle. They knew before any soldiers when a battle was brewing. I began to sweat freely. We approached an intersection in the middle of town.

"Go left, go left!" my platoon leader shouted. A former noncom who had won a battlefield commission in Normandy, he was dark, sturdy, and sensible. His name was Lieutenant Hudson. "Go left!" he shouted again.

F Company went straight down the road. I turned left with nobody in front of me. Edging over close to the houses, with my rifle at my hip, ready to fire, I slowed down to an invalid's walk.

"Faster! Get a move on!"

Oh, goddamn you, I thought. Goddamn all you officers. I'm out here to draw fire, and you want me to run right into it. I stepped out at a quicker gait and, following the road as it curved to the left and then to the right, passed beyond the village. A bridge over a small creek called the Dommel River lay ahead. I looked at it and around it and then beyond it–and stopped cold. There, a hundred yards beyond the bridge by the side of the road, near a stone barn, were three Germans. The one in the center squatted behind a machine gun, with the others close beside him. All of them waved to me in greeting.

You'll be sorry, I thought, you sons of bitches.

Grasping my rifle by the upper hand guard and the small of the stock, I flung it above my head parallel to the ground as a signal for the men behind me: Enemy in sight! In one second, I had made the motion, yanked the rifle down to my shoulder, and aimed at the machine gunner. I wanted to kill him first, because he was the most dangerous.

The Germans continued to wave. Evidently they thought we were German paratroopers who had come to reinforce them. My eyesight was better than theirs, for I could tell a German right away by his stance, which was utterly unlike that of an American soldier, but I was not as relaxed as they were. Tense with nervousness, I leveled on the machine gunner's chest, winced, and pulled the trigger.

The bullet cracked above the German's head, and before I could fire another round, all three men had disappeared behind the barn. I cursed myself. An enemy machine gun fired a short burst to my left. It was not aimed at me, I knew, but my brief heroics were over. I jumped behind the bridge. Some shooting, I thought, crouching close to the earth. I am the world's worst shot. Never could shoot a good goddamn.

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Copyright © 2002 Kenyon Webster