Reviewed by Michael L. Ramsey
MICHAEL L. RAMSEY is president of the Roanoke Public Library Foundation.
Dear Saint Michael, protector of Heaven’s Gate,
Guide your Paratroopers, to a victorious fate.
Please keep us safe, in peace or war,
To right the wrongs, that God Abhors.
Grant us speed, the flight of your wings,
The element of surprise, to deliver our sting.
Give our weapons, the fighting edge of your sword,
Equip us well, your Airborne wards.
— Paratroopers’ Prayer to Saint Michael
We celebrate World War II. It is symbolic of our country’s success because of the ability of people from different locations and backgrounds to work together as citizen soldiers to accomplish a national goal.
One of the most celebrated units is the 82nd Airborne Division. These were the soldiers who parachuted behind enemy lines on D-Day to neutralize some of the German troops in Normandy. They were later instrumental in Market Garden and The Battle of the Bulge.
If I were a journalist, I would disclose here that my father’s field artillery unit fought beside the 82nd in France, Belgium and Germany, and that is partly the source of my interest in the valiant group.
The 82nd Airborne fought many battles and played a key role in the success of ending World War II. Guy LoFaro provides detailed accounts of the movements of the division and how it secured victory for the Allies. The story of the division’s success begins at its inception.
Our nation’s entry into World War II involved the planned chaos of training hundreds of thousands of farmers, factory workers, doctors, dentists and office workers to work together as teams — teams that would sail, fly and march through Africa, Europe and the Pacific islands to defeat the Axis powers. Such training was the key to success in the heat of battle.
Thanks to the vision of Gens. George C. Marshall and Matthew B. Ridgway, a new kind of unit was being trained for airborne assault. These soldiers were volunteers who faced a more rigorous training discipline than the regular infantrymen would experience.
In the first volume of his four-volume biography of Gen. Marshall, Forrest C. Pogue describes the “directness and energy” of then-Capt. Marshall’s to “cut red tape and solve problems that had to be solved” while serving as aide to Maj. Gen. J. Franklin Bell.
Marshall’s focus on efficient problem solving combined with the hands on management style of workaholic Gen. Ridgway who was chosen to invent and train airborne divisions.
Ridgway was ubiquitous. He seemed never to sleep. Like his mentor, Gen. Omar Bradley, he was always in the field with his soldiers. He was also tenacious in selling the concept of airborne infantry to the people in Washington who were unable to see the need for such a tactical advantage — especially in the assault on Fortress Europe.
(My father’s field artillery unit served under Gen. Ridgway, and I grew up hearing about the general’s approach to command from a soldier who greatly admired the man who sent him into battle.)
The Marshall-Ridgway combination prevailed, and the airborne troops went off to war as highly disciplined teams of brother in arms.
LoFaro provides a detailed story of all the ups and downs of the 82nd in training, battle preparation and in the heat of battle. His skill is putting the reader in the camps, in the battlefield, in the middle of the action and putting all that into the political context in which the war was waged and won.
LoFaro’s story will re-kindle pride in those of us who knew America’s Greatest Generation.