Forum for information related to the 101st Airborne Division.
Moderators: padraigmc, Linda, csnow
No ..it wasnt Bill & Babe !1
From http://hamptonroads.com/2010/06/bond-tw ... -over-timeNORFOLK
Bob Harwell and John Cipolla didn't have a lot in common when they met at boot camp in 1943. Cipolla was an Italian Catholic from upstate New York, Harwell a Protestant from North Carolina.
But the teenage soldiers became fast friends training as paratroopers with the Army's 101st Airborne Division, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment.
Cipolla would go home with Harwell on weekends to enjoy his mom's cooking. The two young men would go out on the town, flirt with girls, maybe scuffle with boys.
Things got serious when the soldiers shipped out to England in early 1944. They refined their jump skills and rehearsed for a mission that everyone knew was coming. Only the place and time were unknown.
In May, the soldiers were put in camps behind barbed wire. No one could come in or out. Mail was halted.
The waiting ended June 5. Thousands of paratroopers boarded hundreds of airplanes for midnight flights across the English Channel.
Their first taste of combat required them to parachute into Normandy behind German lines, where they would help clear the way for tens of thousands of troops landing on France's northern beaches.
Cipolla noticed anti-aircraft fire lighting up the darkness. By the light of tracers, he could see planes crashing to earth. Soon it was time to jump.
"I got to that door and I said, 'What in the hell ever made me do this?' " Cipolla said with a laugh. "It was so frightening."
Little went as planned. Harwell ended up at least 10 miles from his intended landing zone, surrounded by German troops. The mortars and ammunition that had been dropped for them to use fell into enemy hands.
"All we had was our rifles," Harwell said.
The men to his left and his right were killed. He and about a dozen other paratroopers held out for more than 12 hours before they ran out of ammo. A grenade blast knocked him out.
"When I came to, a German had his boot on my chest and he was going through my wallet," Harwell recalled with a hint of a smile.
Hours later, he and four other soldiers were told to strip down to their underwear and line up against the wall of a barn. Five shooters assembled a short distance away, presumably to execute them. They lowered their guns when a German soldier rode up on a motorcycle, yelling, "Halt." Instead, the Americans were interrogated.
Miles away, Cipolla was engaged in intense combat. It would take eight days before the paratroopers linked up with the forces who'd stormed Normandy's beaches.
News of Harwell's capture shook him.
"I cried over him," Cipolla said. "He was my best buddy then, and he's my best buddy now. I shed tears over him."
He wrote Harwell's mother back in North Carolina. "I said I'm sure he's going to be OK," he said. "I always knew somehow that he would come back and we'd meet up again."
Harwell spent the rest of the war in a succession of German prisoner of war camps. Work was the only thing in abundance. When liberated by Russian troops 11 months later, he had shrunk from 170 pounds to 89.
Cipolla was injured three times but always returned to the battlefield. Recovering from shrapnel injuries to his neck and chin, he heard of an upcoming daytime combat jump into Holland. He went AWOL from the hospital so he could join it.
After the war ended, they kept in touch via letters and eventually met again at a reunion more than a decade later.
Now, more than 65 years after D-Day, Harwell and Cipolla and their buddies talk mostly about the good times they shared. This weekend, they're gathered in Norfolk for their annual reunion. The event used to draw more than 100 veterans and their families. Now there are fewer than a dozen of them. Family members - grown children and grandchildren - outnumber the aging fighters.
Still, the stories flow: about dumb officers, training jumps, moments of humor amid the carnage.
Harwell, who has lived in Norfolk since 1959, is glad to have his comrades on home turf. Their itinerary included a Friday night dinner cruise and, on Saturday, a banquet.
The most important thing is being together.
"Johnny and I are going to be the last two," said Harwell, who's 86. His buddy is 88. "We're going to be the last two standing."
- Posts: 3308
- Joined: 16 Aug 2007 08:06
- Location: Dundalk Ireland
Return to 101st Airborne Division
Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest