The Road to Arnhem: A Screaming Eagle in Holland (World War II Library)

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9780440236337: The Road to Arnhem: A Screaming Eagle in Holland (World War II Library)

In a daring plan to end the war, the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne jumped into the heart of Nazi-held Europe -- and began a journey into hell....

In September 1944 -- sixteen weeks after the D-Day invasion -- British Field Marshal Montgomery unleashed a daring attack aimed at the heart of Nazi Germany. For the men of the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne, including nineteen-year-old Donald Burgett, the plan meant parachuting in broad daylight into Holland, securing the road to the Rhine River, and helping the British cross into Germany. It was a mission that sent thousands of young men to their deaths.

In this electrifying memoir, Donald Burgett takes us into seventy-two days of close-quarter combat in foxholes and towns against brutal Panzer counterattacks and into the face of the feared German 88mm artillery as the Screaming Eagles push straight into the might of the German Army. Capturing the horror and confusion of war, as ally and enemy move within yards of each other, Burgett tells the story of a legendary fighting unit's bloody victory -- in an epic battle for "a bridge too far."

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From the Back Cover:

"As good as Currahee! and Seven Roads to Hell...Burgett's natural storytelling ability makes this book hard to put down."
-- Booklist
Also by Donald R. Burgett

Currahee!
A screaming eagle at Normandy

"I have read a lot of books on theexperience of combat from both World Wars, and this is by a longshotthe best. Without qualification."
-- Stephen E. Ambrose

Seven Roads To Hell
A screaming eagle at bastogne

"A stirring combat memoir."
-- Kirkus Reviews

Available from Dell

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Return to Aldbourne

I was discharged from the American 216th General Hospital in Coventry, England, on July 12, 1944, after recovering from wounds received on June 13 during the fighting in Normandy. I was a paratrooper, a proud member of the elite 101st "Screaming Eagle" Airborne Division that led the way in the D-day invasion on June 6, 1944. My stick parachuted in at 1:14 a.m. ? among the very first Allied troops to land on French soil that day. The seaborne landings followed us in a little over five hours later, and our infantry had to fight their way through a bloody hell on the beaches of Omaha and Utah, to link up with us farther inland on a later day.

I was issued train tickets for the trip back to Aldbourne. Rail was the main mode of travel in England. They also gave me meal tickets good for meals in any U.S. mess, and a ration card so I could purchase sundry items such as a razor, blades, toilet articles, candy, and cigarettes at any U.S. military post exchange. A clerk handed me my travel orders and cautioned me not to get caught off base without them. I also drew a small advance against my next pay. With all these papers safely tucked in an inside pocket of my jacket I made my way back to our base camp.

Traveling by English train always held a certain fascination for me. Entering one of the many side doors in a car at the station, one would find oneself in a sort of semiprivate compartment, perhaps with a few others, sitting alone or in groups of two to four on benchlike seats facing across a narrow aisle.

The English appeared to me to be a reserved people. They didn't try to invade another's privacy with questions or idle talk. They preferred to leave well enough alone and mind their own affairs. However, if engaged in talk, nearly all of them would respond in a friendly manner. At the moment I felt that I would rather be alone and managed a seat next to a window where I could mind my own business while watching the passing landscape. Looking out the window helped pass the time while in transit. You can learn a lot by watching a foreign land from a moving train, for most trains run through the backyards of the cities and the rural countryside where the common people live.

Most of the hearing had returned to my right ear, which had been damaged by a German hand grenade in a bayonet charge we made against the enemy just outside Carentan. We lost many of our comrades, both killed and wounded, and we killed so many Germans in that battle that the fields were filled with the gore-covered bodies of the dead from both armies. My right arm, which was nearly severed by a shell fragment later in that same attack, felt as though it had not healed all the way. Most of my right forearm down through my hand was still numb, tingling, sort of like when your foot goes to sleep. The wound was tender to the touch and the strength had not yet fully returned to my arm. Now I was heading back to camp and a return to full duty. Nonetheless, it would be good to get back.

Upon arriving in Aldbourne, I walked through the village square. The town was almost deserted. A few civilians turned to look at me but I didn't recognize any of them. I was the first from our outfit to return after the Normandy jump.

I walked through the camp's gateway and then stopped and stood for a long time in the courtyard. It was deserted. The rows of stables we had called home were just as we had left them when we moved out to enplane in the marshaling areas for the Normandy invasion. There was no noise, no troopers hustling about, no one doing close-order drill, no officers or noncoms chewing someone's butt, no nothing ? just silence. For the first time in many months I felt a deep loneliness. Opening the door of Stable 13 was like opening the door of a tomb. Memories flooded my mind. I wondered how many men were still alive. The only thing to do was to keep busy, so I gathered up all my dirty laundry, walked to the washhouse near the latrines, and scrubbed everything clean by hand. When I finished I returned to the stable and ate some fish and chips I'd purchased earlier in town. Then I went to bed.

When I awoke the next morning, July 13, 1944, the sun was shining bright. It was a great start for a day, but I was still alone. The quietness lay like a lead blanket, thick and suffocating. Once again I wondered how my comrades were doing. How many were still alive? How many had been wounded severely? I busied myself with small chores, then lay down on my bunk for a nap. I awoke late in the afternoon to a great racket that came from the center of town. It was my outfit. The men had come back. I pulled on my ODs and boots, not taking time to lace or tie them, and ran toward the gate. Halfway across the courtyard I saw them. They came running toward me, yelling and laughing like a bunch of kids on a picnic. Phillips, Benson, Liddle, Carter, Hundley, Trotter, and many others ? all of them boisterous, laughing, some with arms around each other's shoulders. They were home.

So it was that A Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR), 101st Airborne Division, returned home to our base camp in Aldbourne, England.

They told me I had been reported killed in action when the grenade blew up near my face. After briefly exchanging greetings I made my way to our regimental headquarters in Littlecote Manor to report that I was still alive and stop them from sending a telegram to my parents notifying them of my death. Our command was covered in paperwork. Everyone had to be accounted for: the living, the dead, the wounded, and the missing. When I arrived they were in the process of contacting hospitals to find out who from the regiment was there and how bad each man had been wounded and just when he might return to duty, if at all. After the final tally a call would go out to the "repple-depples" (replacement depots) for enough qualified airborne replacements to take the places of those who would not return to us. The division had to be built back to its full fighting strength immediately.

Usually our command did not relax. There was no time to think, no time to brood over one's losses. We had a war to fight and win. Sharp military discipline had to be maintained, and training went on uninterrupted ? ever mindful of that goal.

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