FARMINGTON, Mich. - A Metro Detroit World War II veteran will be honored next month in Europe where 73 years ago he parachuted behind enemy lines along the Rhine River in Germany.
Edward Pershing Good, 93, of Farmington, was a paratrooper in the 17th Airborne Division and participated in Operation Varsity.
Good was selected by “The Scions of the 17th Airborne” to make the journey to the battlefields he fought on and participate in the annual “Dead Man’s Ridge Walk” in Belgium at the site of the Battle of the Bulge in Bastogne, where Belgians honor the men of the 17th Airborne Division each year.
From there, Good will travel east to Wesel, Germany, along the Rhine River, where paratroopers jumped as part of Operation Varsity, the largest airborne operation in history to be conducted on one day and in one place.
Good says on this flight to Europe he plans to land at an airport instead of jumping from an airplane.
Read Ed Good's account of his time serving below:
I was a senior in high school in Bellevue, Pennsylvania during the 1941-2 school year. I remember doing homework on December 7, 1941 and listening to a symphony on the radio. The broadcast was interrupted to announce the Pearl Harbor attack. I called my friend Jack Brown that afternoon to tell him “We’re in the war”. Before then, I was too young to get involved in the Spanish Civil War, although I thought about it. But when Russia invaded Finland, I really thought about that. I always knew I wanted to be a soldier.
After Pearl Harbor I was not in a fever to join immediately. The draft age was 21. I thought I should finish school, and by going to college year-round, I could graduate before I was 21. So I started at Oberlin in June, 1942 with a full tuition scholarship.
That fall the draft age was lowered to 18, so after I finished my second semester in January 1943 I came home to Pennsylvania and called my local draft board. They said I was too late to go with the current group of men unless I was willing to pay for my own physical, which I did. At the induction center, I was told that I showed sugar in my system, and the doctor said: “it’s your choice: go home, or go into the army”. I said: “I’m going, of course”. Thus I was always a volunteer. They then allowed me to go with that group, which included a lot of high school friends.
A few months before this, my friend Jack Brown went to Canada and joined the RCAF. He was inspired by the movies and news about the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1941. He wanted to fly a spitfire. Jack left on my birthday, November 11, 1942, and I joined the US Army on his birthday, February 4, 1943.
I was randomly assigned to Camp Blackstone in Virginia for medical basic training. I was very disappointed because I wanted to be a rifleman in the infantry. After the basic training th ey gave us several choices for types of work. I selected medical clerk, a logical choice for me, being a bookish student. I sat in a classroom, learning army clerical jobs in the medical field. In this capacity I had no weapons and no weapons training. During this time I applied for Officer Candidate School, but the local board said I was too young and did not qualify.
I then spent some time at Camp Miles Standish in Massachusetts, preparing to serve with the 513th medical hospital ship platoon. I was working as a ward attendant in the hospital, a “bedpan commando”! We were taking care of sick soldiers; not the wounded. One day a whole lot of us were sent to Boston Harbor to unload a whole shipload of wounded soldiers coming from North Africa - Americans, Germans and Italians. This was our first contact with the enemy, carrying them in litters and loading them in ambulances. The Germans all looked like blonde giants. The Africa Corps were the cream of the German army. We were a little in awe of them, as they had been in combat and we were new and green.
There was a USO establishment at Boston Commons. Soldiers on a weekend were invited to sign up to go to dinner at people's houses. One Sunday I went to a house at Radcliffe, a private house that provided a dorm, and there were a half-dozen girls! We were two or three soldiers and we spent a very nice afternoon meeting these college girls. That was the summer of 1943. Two years later, I walked into a Red Cross tent in Germany with a two-day beard. I hadn't had a shower and felt pretty dirty and grimy. A pretty girl was handing out doughnuts and coffee. She had been at that party at Radcliffe! She said she remembered me because I was the only soldier who ever wrote a thank you note. (I had written at the end of the thank you note - “For the girls, a long low wolf whistle.”)
Then the 513th medical hospital ship platoon were sent to California, where we got on a ship and went to Hawaii. By this time I was a T-5, a Technician 5th Grade. We got the same pay as a corporal, but not the same authority. This was about May or June 1943. Before we shipped out, I had applied to the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) (an Army program designed to keep soldiers occupied and to enable colleges to beef up their enrollment so that they could survive the war; it ended in the spring of 1944). I was accepted, but not before I was on my way to Hawaii. They didn't chase me to bring me back. In Hawaii, I worked in the orthopedic ward of a hospital. We lived at Scofield barracks; all permanent, peacetime stuff from the 30’s. It had built-in bathrooms and mess halls. We slept under a mosquito bar; the accommodations were luxurious but open air. That’s when I learned to play chess and to smoke a pipe. We had plenty of free time
There was a nurse working night duty, Ms. Greenwald, an army lieutenant. She had lived across the street when I was growing up in Bellevue. Later during my recall, during the Korean War in 1950 and 51, Ms. Greenwald was at Fort Campbell were stationed at the same place, in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. I took her out to dinner then. We wore civilian clothes because it would have been unseemly for an enlisted person to take an officer out. Nurses had a good life in the army; they carried authority.
Once while we were in Hawaii, the head of our ship hospital platoon said, “Good, you're working too hard. Tell your hospital that your Captain needs you. Quit for a week. Go down to Honolulu, do whatever you want to do.” I remember that time off; it was very pleasant to be enjoying myself in Hawaii. There was a convent in Honolulu, or somewhere in the area, which was the home of a nun who had been a grade school classmate of my mother’s. I was invited for Sunday afternoon tea at the convent.
Then my platoon was shipped back to California. I received orders to go to Loyola College in Los Angeles. These were special classes designed for ASTP. I had math and chemistry classes, and some English classes. That assignment came through February 4, 1944. I had to be a private again, because the ASTP program didn't want noncoms, just privates. We were there less than a week when school identified everyone who was Catholic, and made us get up and get to Mass, at least on Sundays. I remember one Jesuit came into my room a few times to get me out of bed and to Mass.
While at Loyola, I looked up and got in touch with Richard (Dick) Baker, who had grown up in Bellevue. He was an Episcopal minister with a family in greater Los Angeles. I had dinner with them at least once, maybe twice.
I was only in ASTP for about two months. It became apparent in spring 1944 that the war wasn't going to last as long as some people had thought it would, and the Army needed bodies. The military was losing men in North Africa and Italy, and needed replacements. They ended ASTP and put us all into infantry divisions. I was sent to the 89th division, 355th infantry regiment, where I was assigned as a rifleman and then a machine gunner. I loved it. I was so glad to be an honest-to-goodness soldier.
I got into a normal squad with a squad leader who was very enthused about having these college boys assigned to him. He was anxious to get us trained while we were on a big maneuver. It was very tactical. We traveled at night, slept during the day, and slept under trees, keeping out of sight. We were “the enemy” and were being forced onto a beach. We slept the last night of this maneuver on the beach; a little cliff, slope, then there was the water. We could hear surf crashing at night. It was beautiful.
At the end of the maneuver, an officer came by and said: “if you give me breakfast, I’ll give you good news”. He told us that the maneuver was over and that we were going back to Camp Roberts (outside Los Angeles, CA) that day. Back at Camp Roberts we were going into parade formation, and I realized I had no training or experience in “manual of arms”; what to do with my rifle in a formation. So, I got a two-minute lesson while waiting to begin the parade.
After we came back to Camp Roberts, I remember that I went to see the movie, “The Fallen Sparrow”, with a friend; the two of us connected with a young woman whose husband was an officer and who was off in the Pacific; we had dinner together after the movie.
At this point they stripped all the privates and PFC’s who had been trained by the 89th to go to Europe as replacements. An older Sgt. Just picked a group of former ASTP’rs and told us that we would be assigned to a range camp, to give them the opportunity to practice firing their weapons one more time before going overseas; it was a lovely two days in sunny California near a river, between range assignments.
In June I had a ten-day furlough, and traveled back home to Bellevue (borough of Pittsburgh, PA). I was in my own house and my own bed on D-Day. I heard the reports on the radio in my mother’s kitchen. I could hear the whoop whoop whoop that the Destroyers made, and I knew right away this was the long-awaited day of the big invasion. The Americans were invading two beaches, the British two and the Canadians one. The Americans faced very heavy resistance at Omaha Beach.
After D-Day I returned to Fort Roberts for a short time, then they sent us to Camp Butner, North Carolina. That’s when I got onto the machine gun crew. I have damaged hearing to this day. By this point I was really frustrated. I was bored and there was nothing happening. So when they asked for volunteers for special hazardous duty, I signed up for that. A week later, a team came around and asked for volunteers for parachute school. I jumped at the chance. I thought to myself that if I turn this down I’ll never know whether I’m a coward.
So I went to Fort Benning, Georgia in July 1944. Parachute school was four weeks. The first week was all physical training, lots of running, pushups, squats with logs. We were all in relatively good shape to begin with, but it was hard work. Our trainers were parachute/combat veterans who had seen battle in Sicily and other parts of Italy. The second week was learning how to do parachute falls. They put you in a harness, and you slide down a slide, land on the ground, learn how to fall so you wouldn’t break anything. You land with your feet together. Take 30% of load on ankles and feet; 40% on butt and hips, 30% on your shoulder, and roll. The parachute wasn’t restraining you. There was a possibility it could fill up with wind and drag you around so you had to grab risers and spill air out.
We spent the afternoons packing parachutes. Everyone packed his own chute for our first five jumps. For the jumps from the 250-foot tower, you’d get into a parachute harness, get towed up to the top, then they’d release you. You pull the risers just before you land, then you’d hit and roll. We did this maybe two or three times over the course of the week. Also during this time, you would do the hardest part of jump school, which was jumping from a 35-foot height. You go up some steps, 35 feet above the ground; all hooked up, and step out of this door, just like an airplane door. You’d bend your legs as you stepped out of the door. You were on a cable. You’d bounce, then slide 150 feet into a sawdust pile. It was perfectly harmless but it was the hardest thing to do. You would fall maybe ten feet then you’d get caught by the cable and bounce. This was harder than the 250-foot tower, because at the tall tower you had no choice to make. Lots of people quit at the point of the 35-foot jump.
On the fourth week we had five jumps out of an airplane. Pilots would land a C-47, bring in 15 troops, drop them over the drop zone and return, to pick up more, all day long. Friday there was supposed to be a night jump; sometimes you would do it when it wasn’t quite dark. The first jump was wonderful, then suddenly you’re on the ground, looking forward to the next one. It was fun. I developed a technique in order to successfully get through the door: Picture drawing something on a blackboard, then erasing it. I wanted my mind completely blank. After that fourth week some high-ranking officer came around and pinned wings on our uniforms.
During that last week of jump school, an officer got up on a table. He said, “This block is TNT.” He dropped it and it shattered. He said, “that’s perfectly safe and I know it’s safe, because I went to demolition school. Some of you should volunteer for demo school. What we do mostly is dig up mines and detonate them if we have to.” I thought, that is as far as I go. I volunteered for parachute school, and that’s brave enough.
I stayed on after jump school was finished, for parachute communication school, also at Fort Benning. This might have saved my life, because otherwise I may have been at the Battle of the Bulge. Parachute communication school is where I met my friends Kelly (first name John?), Gunther Goldsmith and Jack Hale. Some of us were in radio, some were in telephone; some were in cypher machines. We were living in nice barracks with a paternal old sergeant. He was real tough but would do anything for you. It was very nice.
I had another furlough in December 1944. My sister Jane was about to have her first child. Her due date was December 17th, but I was due back December 15. I requested an extension, but it didn’t come. So I got on the train to go back. I was changing planes in Cincinnati, and they were yelling my name. My mother had called – the wire with the extension had come. So I turned around. Back in Pittsburgh I got off at Pennsylvania Station with a duffel bag on my shoulder. Two MP’s walked up and stopped me. They were stopping everyone (this time of year soldiers were likely to be overstaying their leaves). I said call my mother! He called and my mother told him we have a wire from Captain so and so. He said to go on home. My nephew Arthur was born December 17th and I was there.
We gathered back at Fort Benning and went to Fort Dix, New Jersey. Then onto a ship, the Aquitania, a British luxury liner. They assigned us to a 20 or 40 mm gun on the very top of this ship. A Scottish sailor gave us a 30 second lesson on how to fire this gun. Kelly was my partner, and I asked him, “Did you understand a word of that?” Neither of us had. So we were hoping we wouldn’t see a submarine. This was late January 1945.
We first landed in England, then in France on February 4.
I was assigned to 513th parachute infantry regiment (a mere coincidence that this was my second outfit numbered 513), part of the 17th Airborne division. We were the headquarters company of the 513th. Each regiment could be an independent fighting unit all by itself and we were the headquarters of three battalions, so we had a colonel in command. The 507th regiment had been part of the 101st division at the time of D-Day, then it was moved into the 17th division, so we now had a veteran regiment. The 513th and the glider infantry had been involved in the Bulge, and suffered a lot of casualties. This was their situation when we joined them in the middle of February, 1945.
Kelly, Goldy, Hale and I were lucky to get assigned together in communications. We kept the switchboard going 24 hours. We ran the switchboard and laid wire. We were trying to get wire off the ground and into trees. We tried to maintain telephone connections with other battalions. This was near Rheims in central France.
Operation Varsity came Saturday, March 24th. The significant thing about the jump is it was the largest airborne event of the war - two whole airborne divisions, British and American. There were over 10,000 paratroopers and glider riders. We lost over 1,000, the worst day of airborne history. This was worse than D-Day or Market Garden.
I was in a C-46. We’d made one practice jump a few days or a week before. The C-46 was bigger than the C-47, with doors on both sides of the fuselage. The C-46 could hold at least 20 or more paratroopers, but it had a lot of hydraulics under the fuselage and was very vulnerable, so a great many C-46’s were shot down. Of the ones who did get back, only one could fly again without major repairs. We had more C-47’s; which was the basic plane of the war and continued to fly for 20 years after the war.
The army was crossing the Rhine, and we anticipated heavy German resistance on the other side. These two airborne divisions were dropped a couple of miles on the east side of the Rhine to block German reinforcements trying to get to the river’s edge. So we jumped at 10:00 am, right on top of German troops. We figured that the Germans were sufficiently demoralized that when we jumped on top of them they would dissolve, and it pretty much worked. There was no surprise; they were saying: “17th airborne, you won’t need parachutes. You can walk down on flak”.
I was number four, and Kelly was five in the stick (line) to go out the door. We were on our way when the crew chief in the airplane told us: “We’re having engine trouble; if one engine goes out with this load we can’t hold the plan stable.” In preparing to jump, usually a red light goes on, meaning stand in the door, and the green light means go. The crew chief told us we may have to just go in an emergency, without our routine check. Kelly said, “Ed, if that green light goes on, don’t take the time to hook up the static line; just use your reserve chute”.
We hooked up and got out. We got red light and green light, everything was normal, but we were low. Somewhere we got hit. The plane was on fire when we jumped. I’m sure the crew didn’t make it out. If the crew chief had thought to put on a parachute he may have made it out.
I hit the ground and sprained my ankle badly. I was all excited and forgot to put my feet together. I was all tangled up in parachute lines. I thought that a 10-year old German kid could come out of the bushes and stomp me to death before I got out. Kelly and I couldn’t have been more than 30 or 40 yards apart but I didn’t see him for hours.
It took me a while to get on my feet and get my rifle out of my bag, with my ankle. I was limping, it really hurt. The first person I made contact with was a captain. I think he’d been on our plane. I think he was just an extra officer along in case an officer was killed. We were all supposed to head north. Machine gun bullets were whizzing over our heads and killing some people. I didn’t feel the need to crawl.
Separately, I heard later, my good friend Kelly got involved in a fire fight and got into a house. Men from our group were shooting out the windows. Kelly ran upstairs and the first thing he saw was a dead American on the floor, who’d been shooting out the window.
A group of German soldiers had surrendered on a patio. There was a new German automatic, a very good specimen. The instinct would be to go for it; it would make a wonderful souvenir. But were warned it could be booby trapped. Someone shot at it. We should have told one of the German soldiers to pick it up.
Within an hour I saw one of my friends on a horse wearing a top hat. But it took a while for everyone to find each other; it took until 3:00 or 4:00 p.m. after several adventures. With my sprained ankle, I was walking slowly. I finally found HQ company and Kelly. We dug a hole and dug in. We were halfway through when a Colonel Couts said we have to move. We were moving into some woods; this was just our HQ company. We all had rifles or carbines, or submachine guns, and we were moving in one line toward these woods. I started getting ahead and Couts motioned me back in line. As it was getting dark, someone found a horse, a wagon, and a German soldier. The German was made to drive the horse. He would say something to the horse and someone would shoot from one side; the American would say something and someone would shoot from other side!
We went back to drop zone looking for “leg bundles”, equipment attached to paratroopers’ legs as they parachuted down. But we didn’t find anything. We came back with an empty wagon. My ankle was really hurting, so I rode on the wagon on the way back to HQ. Kelly and I finished the foxhole and put logs across the top of it. We weren’t thinking about being fired upon, but worried about cows falling on top of us. Kelly and I slept in the foxhole that night.
The next morning, an officer found us. He yelled to me: “Good, get out of that hole and shave!” A half mile or mile away were P47 planes, now considered too slow for combat. They were diving and firing straight into the ground. There must have been Germans in those woods. We enjoyed the show.
We were joined the next morning (day 2) by armored tanks that had gotten across the river. The group was told to climb onto the tanks, but we were told to ride on a British scout car until our communications systems were needed. At this point we were just going on radios. We rode for a couple of days, heading east toward Muenster and stopping at night at German farmhouses. We ate a lot of homemade sausages and a lot of cherries. They had been preserved by German people in tall glass tubes. I remember eating a tall glass tube of preserved cherries; a British officer asked me “did you eat all of those BY YOURSELF?” I said “yes, sir, I did”.
I came out of a German farmhouse one morning ready to climb onto our scout car. A second Battalion commander was there: “I ordered everyone to ride on tanks; you men are riding in this vehicle; I should shoot you right here.” I said to someone else, “we were told to stay with this vehicle.” The commander said “just get on a tank.” The problem was that we weren’t charging into enemy territory or looking to get into a fight as the tanks were, but we rode a tank as he said. Kelly said the Germans always let the first tank go by and then hit the second one with a Panserfaust (now they’re called rocket propelled grenade).
We caught up with HQ company and several days later we stopped moving and set up our communications. We were in a good-sized German city. I had to do a little bit of pole climbing to install wires on telephone poles.
At some point the regiment and division stopped pursuing German soldiers and came back to an area that had not surrendered. I don’t remember where that was; maybe Oberhausen Deuseldorf. The telephone system was still working there and our people began functioning as telephone operators. They learned “ein augenblick” (an eyeblink). I never had to do that; I never had to handle German civilians.
We eventually settled down. A few weeks after the jump I was on a switchboard and got the word that Hitler was dead (“Hitler ist tot”) and they were spreading the word. There was a room full of German girls with us, in the switchboard room. I turned around and made the announcement. These German girls were friendly to the Americans. They didn’t react to the news of Hitler’s death. The news wasn't really a big deal, because we were aware that Germans were surrendering everywhere. My friend Goldie Goldsmith accepted a lot of surrendering soldiers. The war was over as far as we all were concerned.
German soldiers were surrendering everywhere because it had become clear shortly after our jump that there was no point in their continuing to fight; they were overwhelmed. Many of the German soldiers we ran into were teenagers and older men that had been recalled. We didn’t have much interaction with them; I remember yelling across, from one rail car to another, to a very young looking German solider. I yelled, asking him how old he was. He said he was 15. We were all marveling at these children in uniform; we heard stories then and later of these dedicated German Youth (Deutschejungen), trying to hold a bridge. I heard that older German soldiers said no, stop, “We won’t fight until those kids get sent back to safety”
We then started setting up more complex telephone operations. They put four or five of us several miles away from HQ to connect with other groups. Our call sign was “Chancellor Operator”. The other two signs were along similar lines, something like “Champion”. We connected to the 507th, and I think it was the 493rd glider regiment (I’m not sure I have that right). I was in contact with division HQ. I used a switchboard with six telephone hookups (“drops”).
During this time, the company mess sent food out to us; one day they sent a roast out to us; a soldier commented that he had to cook the roast right away because we didn’t have refrigeration. We also ate K-rations. We didn’t eat German food; we traded cigarettes with German civilians for beer. We tried to be creative to make K-rations more appetizing; trying to prepare them more like real food instead of just eating out of cans, but options were limited. We’d get a can of cheese, a can of ham salad.
One night, we had established a post in an apartment building. We were occupying several apartments. A woman who lived there was laundering some of our olive drab clothes. She became maternal toward us, calling us by our first names. There were a few other Germans living there.
Another night we were told that German radio was encouraging teens to revolt and attack American and other allies, to start a rebellion. They used a German word meaning uprising. We expected something might happen that night. We sort of unofficially left our ladder outside leading up to our second floor, and guarded the window all night. We had switchboard in a room; we had hand grenades lined up on the windowsill; we balanced panes of window glass on the doors and windows so we would know if anyone tried to come in. I did switchboard duty until late, with the tommy gun on my lap throughout my shift (a GI Thompson submachine gun; much bigger and heavier than tommy gun of the movies).
On May 8, 1945 the news of the surrender came over the switchboard, that fighting had stopped. We saw young German women who had been in the Army, and who had just been released. They typically wore white turtleneck sweaters, trudging home.
We had been at this outpost maybe two weeks when we heard that the German citizens were banging pans when DP’s were loose (displaced person, people who had been shipped by Germans from their Eastern European homes and made to labor in German factories). I remember that it might have been Oberhausen because there was a song called the Oberhausen Blues. It was coming over American radio. The Americans took responsibility for the DP’s, fed them.
They were loosely confined, but they would break out of where they were staying at night and roam around. Each military unit took responsibility for a certain number of them. The German citizenry were afraid of them (the German men were not around - it was German women, elderly, and children). Germans would bang pots and pans together as an alarm to warn each other than the DP’s were roaming around. I volunteered, along with another 6 or 7 of us from our switchboard outpost, to go out on patrol, looking to save and protect some of the German civilians.
One night I heard the noise and thought it was a group of DP’s approaching us. One guy in my patrol was kind of crazy; he was carrying around with him an antique German rifle; I don’t know where he got it from. We heard a noise; this guy made a foolish decision to shoot his rifle; the people approaching us were American soldiers; another patrol, we discovered, when one of them shouted in English: “what was that? It wasn’t an M-1”. I thought I was about to die in a ridiculous situation. The guy I was with pitched his German rifle into the bushes to get rid of the evidence! And we called back to the other American patrol that everything was under control.
At some point, we either flew or went by truck to a big encampment of the 513th . Our communications officer met us. He was wearing a pair of gym trunks. He said, “this is the uniform of the day, we’ll give everyone some.” This was in June or July and it was warm. We were in tents. This was my first introduction to these metal frames that they lay down to make a landing strip. We had tents on both sides of this landing strip. we must have been near Joigny Sur Yonne, there was a river. We swam in that river.
We got on a ship to head home a few days before the Japanese surrendered. I was riding on an old freight car in the Paris railyards the day after the A-bomb was dropped. There was a kid selling the Herald Tribune with all the stories about the atom bomb; a lot of high school physics was being resurrected and discussed. When the Japanese surrendered, we were in mid-Atlantic. We went to Fort Bragg, in North Carolina, and were there until I was discharged in December, 1945.
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