This picture is another excellent example of what being addicted to History is all about. This is a well-known and widely disseminated photo taken of General Dwight D. Eisenhower meeting with men from Co. E, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment (Strike) just before they load up for the drop on Normandy, June 5, 1944. The majority of the men in this photo were killed or wounded in battle a few hours later.
The tall man facing Ike on the right, wearing the number 23 around his neck, is 1st Lieutenant Wallace C. Strobel, who survived the night and subsequent week of fighting without injury. He died in 1999. The 502nd jumped into Normandy with 792 men. After six days of desperate fighting, only 129 were still standing and able to make the roadmarch back to St. Come-du-Mount.
I cannot absolutely confirm the identification of any other man in this photograph, but one source claims that the man on the far right, with the musette bag around his neck, is Pvt. William Crosby of Reading, Mass. Crosby is known to have been in Co E, 502nd PIR, and to have been badly wounded during the airborne assault that night. He survived the war and died in the Florida Keys in 1980. A reader of this site has disputed this photographic tagline claim, stating it may be Leonard N. Crawford. Yet another source claims the other men include Pfc William Boyle, Cpl Hans Sannes, Pfc.Edwin S.Persons, Pfc Ralph Pombano, Pfc Schuyler W. Jackson, Sgt Delbert Williams, Cpl William E Hayes, Pfc Henry Fuller, Pfc Michael Babich, Pfc. Carl Vickers, and Pfc W William Noll. As the Signal Corps photographer did not note anyone other than Eisenhower, the 502nd suffered overwhelming casualties that night, and 1LT Stroble has passed on, it is difficult to say with any certainty whom the other men are.
What is especially interesting about this photo is some of the stories that surround it. Eisenhower's own official memoirs, as well as those of his staff, make a prominent mention of that afternoon visit to the Airborne encampments (he also had visited some of the 82nd Airborne Division areas), where Ike claimed the enthusiasm of the paratroopers help him make the decision to go ahead with the invasion that night, despite the inclement weather. Several paratrooper's memoirs also say his visit helped them build up their own morale for the coming jump.
However, a most interesting alternative story crops up in at least one veteran's memoirs. It seems that some Hollywood stars and singers were touring the camps around this same time, and word spread that no less than Betty Grable herself had come to see the paratroopers. Word spread throughout the camp like wildfire and literally everyone went running to "greet" the star. Instead, they ran (literally) into their Theater Commander, Eisenhower, and had to stand around politely talking with the old man.
This story may or may not be true, but it does give one a little chuckle to think what is behind the expressions of some of the men in that photo (especially the Mohawked paratrooper standing in the background in-between Ike and Strobel!).
For more on the 502nd, see The 502nd in World War II
This additional information is from the Eisenhower Birthplace State Historical Park's archives. (unfortunately no longer available online)
This article was prepared for Eisenhower Birthplace State Historical Park
by Wallace C. Strobel, 1st lt. Company E, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment,
101st Airborne Division during World War II. Strobel is pictured with Ike and
the paratroops preparing to take off for the invasion of Normandy. He gives
the story of how the photo came to be.
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, Michigangreat
fishing therebeen 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.
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