"You must be familiar with the tradition of what one should do for every person who fought at Arnhem in 1945. Now the people in Western New York have a chance to do the same for some very brave men who will be here for the 82nd Airborne Division reunion in August."
The person who spoke the above words to me was correct. I do, indeed, know the tradition of offering a drink to anyone who was a "Red Devil" at Arnhem in 1945.
In Arnhem, Holland, Allied paratroopers jumped into glory and disaster. The "Red Devils" were the British paratroops who bore the brunt of the casualties in the place immortalized in Cornelius Ryan's book, "A Bridge Too Far."
Recently, I saw an old movie called "Oceans 11," which was about a group of former paratroopers -- led by Frank Sinatra -- undertaking a heist of Las Vegas.
In one scene, the late Cesar Romero tells the late Peter Lawford, "I wonder if I could have jumped out of an airplane like you guys did in the 82nd Airborne." I could almost hear the former troopers yelling, "No, you couldn't have done that."
Not many amateur World War II historians know that the paratroops had a disastrous jump in Sicily early on. It makes me think of the Army captain who told me and another would-be paratrooper, "The paratroops have no future after what happened in Sicily. They won't use them anymore."
The account of that aborted action is recalled in a song about "blood upon his risers." Still, the paratroopers jumped into the dark night over Normandy Beach. And to discover what the glider troops were doing that night, read some chilling scenes from Cornelius Ryan's first book. "The Longest Day."
Yes, we had pilots, submariners and infantry guys in all our wars. But here we were asking people to take on something new -- to do pioneering in a war. So this one is for Stanley Wojtulski, Kenny Burgstahler, Bernie McGonagle, George McCoy and young Capt. Carrig, who sent information about a month ago.
McCoy, a local member of the 82nd Airborne and a D-Day veteran, once told me, "We thought we had fouled up on D-Day, spread all over like we were. Later we were told that our jump was successful because we had confused the Germans."
This will be the third reunion of the 82nd Airborne Division in 51 years. It will be open to anyone who ever served in the 82nd and will be staged in Western New York at the Radisson Hotels and Suites in Cheektowaga Aug. 20-23. "Our people like the way they are welcomed here," Wojtulski, the reunion chairman, said Thursday.
On Aug. 21, 300 active duty paratroopers will fly in from Fort Bragg, the home base of the 82nd Airborne, and jump into the Niagara Falls Air Base at 10 a.m.
The event will be covered by most media outlets. And any civilian who doesn't get a chill from that sight had better call, "Medic!"
Those who witness the jump may wonder, "How many of the jumpers will know about what happened in a small French town named St. Mere Eglise on June 6, 1944?"
And, "do those guys in the air realize how much the troopers on the ground did when they pioneered this sort of fighting?"
There is an 82nd Airborne museum in the area, but its site won't be pinpointed. The museum contains items including everything from dummies rigged for combat jumps to the Bill Mauldin cartoons.
One of the fliers that stirred the ashes of old fires was a number that showed an airborne soldier and the words "U.S. paratroopers provide the enemy with the maximum opportunity to give his life for his country."
The chance to meet some very brave men will arrive for four days in late August. I hope that you don't miss that chance. And a simple "thank you" will be sufficient.
One last matter: When those 300 paratroopers jump Thursday morning, nobody will be shooting at them.