A Screaming Eagle at Bastogne,
by Donald R. Burgett
I’m about finished with three books of the four book set Marci got me for Christmas, signed by the now 90-year-old author Don Burgett. Burgett joined the young 101st Airborne Division when he was 18 years old in May of 1943.
“Burgett holds the title of being the first enlisted man to write and publish a history of the American Airborne”
Burgett grew up in Detroit and now lives in Howell. His son lives in the manufactured housing community in Zeeland that Marci and her folks manage and that’s how Marci’s grandfather Maynard Klamer and I got signed copies of this four-volume history of the Screaming Eagles and their exploits from Normandy to the heart of Hitler’s Germany.
I’ve always had a great respect for those who fought in combat on our behalf, in any war we’ve been involved in. Some of the accounts I’ve read in this book make me wonder what I would have done in these situations. I might have deserted or I might have used my weapon on myself to make the grotesque images go away. I guess it’s best that young men go into war and not old men like me. I would hope I would act honorably in defense of
my country, but none of us can really know unless we’ve actually been there. All I can say is that without the men of the 101st and 82nd Airborne divisions, victory in Europe would have come much later. Heck, we might have lost the war, who knows?
Near Bastogne, Burgett and his fellow paratroopers spent nights in foxholes in -10 degree temps, went days without food, without water and without sleep. One thing they had in abundance was brutal warfare with German forces.
Below is an excerpt from the third book to give you an idea of some of the stuff these men endured for us:
We had to laugh in spite of the pounding we were taking. Men were being killed and wounded but still we laughed.
Paul Devitte was the gunner on the machine gun set up in the field when a shell struck just in front of his weapon and exploded. The blast sent shell fragments slicing forward in a fan shape over the frozen ground. The assistant gunner and two others were killed outright. Devitte had his left arm torn off above the elbow, his right leg above the knee, and his left leg below the knee.
Several men carried Devitte to the road after the shelling stopped. Dave Clark, our medic, gave him a shot of morphine, stuck the needle through his lapel, and bent the needle to affix it there.
Devitte never lost consciousness. A jeep arrived and he was strapped onto a litter that was then fastened on the jeep. Just as the jeep started out, Devitte asked the driver to wait.
“Would someone get my watch for me?” he called out. “It was on my left arm; it was a graduation gift from my parents. They would feel bad if I lost it.”
Devitte survived this ordeal and one of the troopers did find his arm – and his watch. He later repaired it and gave it back to Devitte after the war. This is one of many incredible stories that Burgett tells so well in these books.
If you love history, especially military history, or know someone who does, I can highly recommend these books. Here is what Stephen Ambrose, the great historian and author of “Band Of Brothers” says about Burgett’s books on the 101st:
“I have read a lot of books on the experience of combat from both World Wars, and this is by a longshot the best. Without qualification.”
Years ago I read Tom Brokaw’s “The Greatest Generation” and I have a re-kindled respect for so many men and women of this era who did such incredible things in the face of such terrible circumstances.