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Parachute Infantry: An American Paratrooper's Memoir of D-Day and the Fall of the Third Reich Paperback – October 29, 2002
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From Library Journal
Webster was definitely not your average GI. An English major at Harvard, he could have spent World War II as an officer or in a combat support branch. Instead, he volunteered to serve as a combat infantryman in the new U.S. Army airborne forces. His desire to fight the Nazis was more than fulfilled through combat jumps on D-Day and later behind German lines. Himself wounded, Webster buried more than a few of his close friends. Although all personal narratives of combat possess common themes and follow predictable paths, they invariably draw the reader into their world of common suffering, shared joy, collective terror, and appalling inhumanity. Webster brings this world alive for the reader. A useful supplement to Stephen Ambrose's Band of Brothers (LJ 5/15/92), which told the story of Webster's parachute unit. For comprehensive World War II collections in academic and public libraries. [See also World War II: 50 Years After D-Day, LJ 4/ 1/94, p. 110-11.]-John R. Vallely, Siena Coll. Lib., Loudonville, N.Y.
--John R. Vallely, Siena Coll. Lib., Loudonville, N.Y.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.
From Kirkus Reviews
It's a mystery why these splendid reminiscences of a gentleman ranker who served with the US Army's 101st Airborne Division in Europe during the climactic 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 Arnem 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 Bertchtesgaden, the Fhrer'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 will ring a resonant bell with the legions of GIs who rather enjoyed soldiering under fire but despised the military for its chickenshit rigidity. -- Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
As for the personality of Webster, it it's true that he can be abrasive at times (even I was a bit irritated at the abrasive tone of his letters home to his mother), and he never volunteered for anything (leading to charges in some reviews below that he was 'not a hero'). To that I say "so what?" He's smart, funny and honest. I can't ask for anything more.
Indeed, I've never read a more honest memoir about WW2. This is an unvarnished take on it. It's good to read a memoir that was written shortly after the war; before years gone by had managed to cloud the memory or, worse, smooth the rough edges of what it was like to fight in the infantry. Some memoirs almost seem nostalgic. This is not that kind of memoir.
Webster was still a little bitter and angry when he wrote this. He hated the army with it's arbitrary rules and nonsensical bureaucracy. He admits to enjoying killing the enemy, and tells the truth about since of the things the men of Easy Company 506th PIR that didn't make it into the HBO series.
That doesn't lessen my admiration for these men. In fact, it merely makes them seem more human.
He gets bonus points for not asking me to slog through three chapters about his youth too.
To read "Parachute Infantry" is to look at the flip side of the story of E Company.
David Kenyon Webster, a Harvard student, was not an original member of E Company at Toccoa, jumping on D-Day as a member of the HQ Company.
He later joined and became a completely unaccomplished member of E Company, and had a very limited role in its storied successes during WWII. He was a self-admitted "goldbrick", and refused to volunteer for anything. He was not a coward but did have a strong sense of self-preservation which served to severely limit his opportunities for doing anything heroic.
Webster barely seems to have even gotten to know Major Dick Winters, the central character of E Company in the BoB story. Throughout his time with E Company, Webster was so good at keeping his head down that he rarely was able to see the bigger picture of what his unit was trying to accomplish beyond a very tightly focused small objective.
Webster would end his autobiography of his WWII experience with this lament: "I have accomplished nothing, achieved no rank, seen almost no action".
Why would anybody interested in WWII, in the story of E Company, be interested in this book? Why would Stephen Ambrose be so interested in it that he would help get it published in 1994, after it had been initially rejected in the 1950's, when it was first written?
For BoB aficionados, it does fill out some more details about several members of E Company, such as Joe Liebgott, Donald Hoobler, Burton Christenson, George Luz, John Janovek, Ronald Speir, Lieutenant Thomas Peacock, and the Camera Killer Lieutenant.
The other books about E Company concentrate on the most active members of E Company, the "heroes", the "killers" (Dick Winters's term). This book is about the other guys in the company, the faceless GIs of E Company who were only trying to get by and survive the war. And to that extent, this book is full of the rich details of the daily grind and trivia of Army life during WWII. We get abundant details about food and Army rations out in the field, about the cooks, about the looting, about the sex, about the civilians in the countryside.
We find out additional details such as the fact that towards the end of the war, George Luz had left E Company to go to the HQ Company.
From this book came the scene of German prisoners being shot by the roadside by a French soldier (Webster's account is much more striking than the movie version - you'll have to read it), as well as the scene of Webster chatting with the German MP at the roadside checkpoint from the HBO series.
Other scenes from the HBO series involving David Webster are not in this book, and so it remains unclear whether these came only from the imagination of the writers. These include the conversations between Webster and Joe Liebgott in the truck (where Liebgott talks about his dreams after the war is over), Webster's rant at the passing columns of surrendering German soldiers, the scene at the concentration camp involving Webster and Liebgott, and Webster's involvement in the Last Patrol (he actually stayed in one of the outposts to cover the patrol while Liebgott went as the translator - Webster's account does have a more detailed description of what happened to the dying German soldier left behind by the American raiding party). The HBO depiction of Webster getting snubbed by E Company members when he rejoins them is completely contrary to his account of a warm reception by E Company in this book.
It was good to read this book to find out more about what was true and what was Hollywood in the scenes involving Webster, and to get such a different viewpoint of "Band of Brothers" beside the ones focusing on the heroes of E Company.
This was a book written well before its time. The ethos of the 1950s simply could not handle its raw honesty about life in the military. It is not unlike "Jarhead", a book about the first Iraq War, and it also is similar to many other Vietnam era and post-Vietnam era war autobiographies.
The only part that's really different, that has changed completely, is that this book describes a time when students at elite universities like Harvard would volunteer to serve with the military, with the paratroopers of the U.S. Army.
Webster was a man with an attitude. He had a problem with authority and was choleric. His negativity colors every page and sometimes comes off as whiny but he's excused because he always did his duty and was a dependable and capable soldier.
Webster's keen insights appear objective and provide a view of the war as seen from the ground. Webster wanted this POV because he planned to write an infantry soldier's experience of war. He refused to become an NCO and never volunteered for anything in order to preserve this vantage point. He had the education to write clearly and intelligently and went on to make a living as a writer, not surprising, he's a good writer.
He will sometimes jump around while telling his story, which keeps us on our toes, and sometimes starts his dialogue in the middle of a situation. It may sound disjointed but I found it refreshing and entertaining.
His book is a great read for both historians and WWII buffs. His widow provided the manuscript to Ambrose as source material for his "Band of Brothers". Webster died before Ambrose came on scene but the manuscript was written shortly after the war. Webster's attempts to get it published came to naught but Ambrose saw its value and pushed for its publication. It's a good companion piece to Ambrose's book as well as the miniseries.