A Chat with Easy

We interrupt this post to bring you some history.

“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.”

“Later, in July, when we returned to base camp in England one of the men at base camp gave me a number of English newspapers which had used the picture. He had recognized some of us in the picture and had saved the issues. It was also used on cover of Yank magazine’s 30 June issue. I don’t believe it was used again during the war.”

“Our regiment photographer, Mike Misura, gave me the original negative of the one shot he had taken. This is the one with the General speaking directly to me with his hands down. The other shot was apparently taken by an official Army photographer and is the one with the General’s arm raised as he spoke. This apparently is the official Defense Department photo as it seems to be the one used most often.”

“I didn’t think about the picture again until the 1952 Presidential campaign when the General ran for President. That fall, General Eisenhower visited Michigan and the Saginaw area on a “whistle stop” trip by train. During his visit he was shown a copy of the picture by a friend of mine, Harvey Walker, who was the Saginaw County Republican Chairman. Harvey said the General recalled the incident and he signed a copy of the photo which I still have.”

“The picture has been used as a standard for anything connected with the European Theatre of Operations of World War II. As the years have passed it seems to be used more and more to show our Army as civilians like to envision it and to those who serve with the 101st Airborne Division it represents what we know our Division was. A fine well trained dependable group of men who were prepared for the invasion of France.”

“The picture was used in the Eisenhower postage stamp issued in 1990. It was depicted in the background of the stamp and while some changes were made in an attempt to follow postal regulations, there is no question the picture was used by the stamp artist.”

“I have always been proud of my service with the officers and men of the 502ND Parachute Infantry Regiment and the 101st Airborne Division.”

– Wallace C. Strobel, 1st lt. Company E, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division

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