2030: Eisenhower meets the men of the 101st

1st Lieutenant Wallace C. Strobel, who survived the night and subsequent week of fighting without injury. He died in 1999. The 502nd jumped into Normandy with 792 men. After six days of desperate fighting, only 129 were still standing and able to make the roadmarch back to St. Come-du-Mount.

1st Lieutenant Wallace C. Strobel, who survived the night and subsequent week of fighting without injury. He died in 1999. The 502nd jumped into Normandy with 792 men. After six days of desperate fighting, only 129 were still standing and able to make the roadmarch back to St. Come-du-Mount. Strobel later recalled: He (Eisenhower) asked my name and which state I was from,” Strobel related. “I gave him my name and that I was from Michigan. He then said, “Oh yes, Michigan, great fishing there. Been there several times and like it.

The decision having been made to go, there was little left for the Supreme Commander to do but wait and watch the whole elaborate scheme unfold. At around 1800 he left his temporary headquarters at Portsmouth and travelled to Greenham Common airfield near Newbury. Here he mingled with the men of the 101st Airborne Division who were just a few hours away from departure. He was accompanied by his Naval Aide, Harry C. Butcher:

We saw hundreds of paratroopers, with blackened and grotesque faces, packing up for the big hop and jump.

Ike wandered through them, stepping over packs, guns, and a variety of equipment such as only paratroop people can devise, chinning with this and that one. All were put at ease.

He was promised a job after the war by a Texan who said he roped, not dallied, his cows, and at least there was enough to eat in the work. Ike has developed or disclosed an informality and friendliness with troopers that almost amazed me, I not having been on many of his inspection trips in England.

We concluded the tour with C-47s growling off the runway, carrying the jumpers and their Major General, Maxwell Taylor, to their uncertain mission — one that Leigh-Mallory went on record against as being too dangerous and costly, and to which Ike also went on record, ordering the deed to be done, as it was necessary to help the foot soldiers get ashore.

We returned to camp about 1:15, sat around the nickel-plated office caravan in courteous silence, each with his own thoughts and trying to borrow by psychological osmosis those of the Supreme Commander, until I became the first to say to hell with it and excused myself to bed.

See Three Years with Eisenhower. The personal diary of Captain H. C. Butcher … Naval Aide to General Eisenhower, 1942 to 1945..

Strobel later wrote this account of the photograph:

The picture was taken at Greenham Common Airfield in England about 8:30 p.m. on June 5, 1944. My 22nd birthday.

It was shortly before we were to leave the tented assembly area to which , for security reasons, we had been confined for about 5 days. We had darkened our faces and hands with burned cork, cocoa and cooking oil to be able to blend into the darkness and prevent reflection from the moon. We were all very well prepared emotionally for the operation.

The drop packs, that were to be attached to the planes and contained our machine guns, mortars and ammunition, had been prepared earlier, marked with our plane numbers and delivered to the plane. Our plane number was 23 and I was the jumpmaster of that plane. This fact accounts for the sign around my neck in the picture which carries the number 23. The planes and jump sticks were so numbered for ease in locating the planes and crews as well as the attachment of the drop bundles to the correct planes.

We were waiting for orders to leave for the planes when the word was passed, “Eisenhower is in the area.” At that point in time this did not cause a great deal of excitement because all of us had seen him before when he had visited the division and, in addition, we were all pretty well preoccupied with our thoughts of our equipment and the operation ahead.

A short time later we heard some noise and we all went into the streets between the tents to see what was going on. Down the street came the General, surrounded by his staff and a large number of photographers, both still and movie. As he came toward our group we straightened up and suddenly he came directly toward me and stopped in front of me. He asked my name and which state I was from. I gave him my name and that I was from Michigan. He then said, “Oh yes, Michigan great fishing there – been there several times and like it.”

He then asked if I felt we were ready for the operation, did I feel we had been well briefed and were we all ready for the drop. I replied we were all set and didn’t think we would have too much of a problem. He seemed in good spirits. He chatted a little more, which I believe was intended to relax us and I think that all of us being keyed up and ready to go buoyed him somewhat.

You must remember that the men of the 101st and the 502nd Parachute Infantry especially were exceptionally well trained. We all felt we had outstanding senior and field grade officers. We had the best arms and equipment available and we had been very well briefed for the operation. We were at a peak physically and emotionally. We were ready to go and to do our job.

While I think the General thought his visit would boost the morale of our men, I honestly think it was his morale that was improved by being such a remarkably “high” group of troops. The General’s later writings confirmed this.

Within minutes of his visit we gathered our equipment and walked to our planes. I especially remember that as our plane took off at dusk and as I stood in the open doorway of the plane I could see a group of men watching and waving at the planes and I understood later that it was General Eisenhower and his staff.

I forgot about the incident because of our activity during the next few weeks. Later when we were in a rear area I happened to look at a copy of a “Pony” edition of Time Magazine and I saw a very poorly printed copy of the picture. I couldn’t make out the faces but I saw the 23 sign around the next of one of the men and I realized it was the picture taken the night before D-Day when we were ready to take off.

See History Addict for the full account.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower talks with Commander 502nd Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, Lt. Col. Robert Cole. Eisenhower's  naval aide Harry Butcher stands behind him .

General Dwight D. Eisenhower talks with Commander 502nd Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, Lt. Col. Robert Cole. Eisenhower’s naval aide Harry Butcher stands behind him .

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