Ah, the things we leave behind. I think I’ve mentioned before that Alan’s father, Roger P. Derringer, was an infantry paratrooper during World War II. I’ve called him the Zelig of the European theater because it seems he was everywhere, and he was — southern France, the Battle of the Bulge, North Africa, Italy. Their job was to jump in ahead of regular forces and raise hell.
Anyway, he came home with three Purple Hearts and many souvenirs — maps of the front printed on silk, handmade uniform patches, the thanks of several grateful nations — and a lot of snapshots, many taken with a Leica camera he took off a German officer they captured (and gave to an American surgeon not long after). But the most interesting relic turned up decades later, after he died.
Their regiment underwent training in England, and were billeted at Chilton Manor in the village of Chilton Foliat, a country estate belonging to some titled aristocrat. During restoration work at the estate in the late 1990s, workers turned up what appeared to be a discarded roofing tile, upon which a bored soldier had etched his name:
R.P. Derringer, Sept. 1, 1942
2nd BN, 503 parachute RN
The workers checked the records, contacted his widow and shipped the tile to her. Decent of them, I’d say. Alan’s sister had it framed behind glass, making it difficult to photograph, but you get the idea:
Underneath that, a little parachute:
The 503d was later reorganized and redesignated the 509th, and they fought and died nearly to the last man. Wikipedia’s entry on the 509th says that of the original 700, only about 50 survived to January 1945, at which point the unit was disbanded and survivors plugged into gaps in the 82nd Airborne. Roger’s war ended in a VA hospital stateside. He didn’t tell many stories until near the end of his life, but I think this was the time he had both his arms splinted by a battlefield medic, pointed away from the front and told, “Run, or your ass belongs to Hitler.”
His ass never belonged to Hitler, but he got one of the Fuhrer’s battle flags, liberating St. Tropez. That picture’s in a book somewhere. If it turns up in the estate distribution, I’ll scan it and post it.
Well. Back from Ohio, safe, sound and ready for the new year. Thanks again for all your kind comments. Life is going on, and will commence with some more blogging later today.
Happy new year to all of you.