I have visited with many veterans over the years, and the diversity of stories and reflections remain exciting and thought-provoking. There are often common threads of brotherhood, patriotism, love of country and the American flag. Based on my interviews and understandably so, some are easy to talk about, and some are not.
As of late, I have been visiting with World War II veterans who bring their unique perspective. They have served their country, grew up during the great depression and are also now in their 90’s which provides a conversation that has is seasoned with time. They have lived through many historically significant times and developments in American and World history.
While producing a Veterans special, I had the opportunity to visit with Sgt. Eugene C Deibler a native of Bradford, PA who after World War II made NC home, and yes it was for the love of a woman. He had met Mary Smith before deployment. They fell in love and before leaving he asks Mary to be his wife. She told him she would marry him when he returned from the war.
It all started in August of 1942 when Eugene’s school friend called him and suggested they join the Air Corp and become fighter pilots. Eugene was 17 and had to wait till his birthday in November. After Eugene’s birthday they both enlisted and passed their physicals; however, they both failed their eye test which disqualified them as fighter pilots. They were sent back to the barracks after being told that they would be assigned as radio operators on B-17 bombers. This did not appeal to either of them, and on the way to the barracks they saw the sign “Join the U.S. Paratroopers.”
Neither of them knew anything about paratroopers, so they went in to talk to the recruiter. They liked what they learned, and the fact that they had failed their eye test was not a problem. They were sent back to the barracks and told that as soon as they had 12 committed, they would be sent together to Toccoa, Georgia. A few weeks later on November 17, 1942, the twelve were on their way. They were in the newly activated 501 PIR. Basic training was usually ten weeks; however, they were in 17 weeks. It was strict; you run everywhere. There was a mountain called Currahee, and it was 3 miles to the top and a run-up and down the mountain was part of the daily activity.
For those who made it through the rigorous basic training, they were sent to Fort Benning for jump training. Eugene was part of the 43 class. Training was started by jumping off towers and then everyone was required to make five qualification jumps to become a paratrooper. The tower jumps went fine for Eugene; however, he broke his ankle on his first qualification jump. It would be six weeks of recovery before he was able to finish and move on to Camp Mackall. Everyone in his group had already moved on, and if cleared by the doctor his remaining four qualification jumps would be with guys he did not know.
Eugene came close to not being allowed to qualify because the doctor thought he would not be able to make the jumps with a weak ankle. However, Eugene demonstrated by performing 64 gorilla stomps that his ankle was indeed fully recovered.
Eugene was medically cleared and would move on to have four more qualification jumps.
Next week we will learn about the notable Battles and Campaigns that Sgt. Eugene C. Deibler was involved with.