(photograph courtersy of Brett Hickle)
William P. Straitiff (A.K.A. Bill) was born in Pennsylvania in 1922. After two years of High School, Bill had to go to an induction station December 16, 1942 and joined the Branch Immaterial - Warrant Officers, USA on December 31, 1942. At age 20, Bill volunteered for the Airborne.
Bill's training took place in Camp Toccoa, Georgia which was adjacent to the Currahee Mountains. Funny enough, “Currahee” meant “stand alone” in the local Indian language and the paratroopers immediately adopted it as their regimental motto since that was their objective behind enemy lines. In Camp Toccoa Bill Straitiff became a member of the Currahees, and was assigned to A Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Brett Hickle told me that his Uncle Bill had a buddy at Camp Tocca and they would race each other on Mt. Currahee. One of Bill's close friends was Ted Vetland. He would later win the Purple Heart, Bronze Star Medal and Silver Star Medal.
Company in front of Currahee mountain ((picture courtesy of Brett Hickle (click on picture to enlarge))
On 20 July 1942 the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment was activated and Lt. Col. Robert F. Sink was named regimental commander. Lt. Col. Sink, who had been a member of the original 501st Parachute Infantry Battalion relinquished his command of the 503rd PIR to Lt. Col. Kenneth. Like many of the Airborne regimental commanders of his day, Colonel “Bounding Bob” Sink instilled his own unique style of leadership on his troops who took their training camp reviews on the double. Sink's demanding style of training would serve the men well during the war when they had to march great distances in short periods of time.
After Bill completed his training at Camp Toccoa he and the other paratroopers were ordered to Fort Benning for parachute training. Upon arrival at Fort Benning, the 506th immediately started their parachute training. They learned how to pack their own chutes and to prepare their equipment for the droppings in an airborne operations. Once their advanced airborne training at Fort Benning was completed, the unit moved to Camp Mackall, NC. It was here that extensive tactical training was conducted, including many night jumps. Brett told me: “Well, one day they were doing a practice jump and Bill saw his buddy go off in one direction, so Bill guided his chute in that direction too.”
The 506th PIR was attached to the 101st Airborne Division on June 1, 1943. Later that month the regiment moved for maneuvers to Tennessee. After participating in the maneuvers, the 506th moved to Fort Bragg, NC until the end of August 1943 when the unit went to Camp Shanks, NY to prepare to be transported overseas. Camp Shanks was also known as “Last Stop U.S.A.” The 506th crossed the Atlantic on the S.S. Samaria during September, arriving at Liverpool, England, on September 15, 1943.
In England, Bill was stationed in Wiltshire County, with units in such villages as Aldbourne, Ramsbury, Froxfield, and Chilton-Foliat. Company A was moved out to Chiseldon and stayed in stables. Bill and the others did extended training and night jumps in “Operations Wadham and Rankin” including one in Torquay, hedgerow country, southern England in preparation of the invasion of occupied Europe.
One day delay because of bad weather was June 5-6, 1944, “THE DAY OF DAYS” for the men of the A Company of the 506th PIR. They left from airfield Uppottery, taking it's name from the nearby Devonshire village. By C-47's Bill, with the rank of Sergeant, and the others were carried into their first real combat mission.
The 506th PIR took off for their first combat jump at about 0100 hours, 6 June 1944. In the early hours of D-day a combination of low clouds, and enemy FLAK fire caused panic by the pilots. As a result of the panic the planes broke-up their troop carrier formations. The scattering of the air armada was such that only 9 of the 81 planes scheduled to drop their men on the DZ (Drop Zone) found their mark. Consequently, the sporadic jump patterns caused most of the paratroopers to land far away of their designated DZ. However, the area had long been recognized by the Germans as a likely spot for a parachute assault. The Germans set a strategic trap and in less than 10 minutes managed to kill the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Wolverton, his executive officer Major George Grant and a large portion of the battalion. The only part of the battalion that survived were those who were dropped in the wrong DZ. Bill probably fought valiantly in a small group and moved towards his objectives. Just prior to the landing of seaborne forces, the high ground overlooking the beaches was seized and held by the men of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment.
101st Airborne Drop Pattern, June 6, 1944
(Click on picture to enlarge)
The Company A men, as far as you could speak of a company, together with some of the 82nd, attacked and liberated Ravenouville at daylight. It was the first town to be liberated in Europe in WWII (not to cunfuse with St. Mere Eglise, the first City to be liberated in Normandy by the 82nd Airborne Division). Company A also took part in the liberation of Carentan a few days later. Sgt. Bill Straitiff was also involved in the ordered bayonet attack in “Bloody Gulch” outside Carentan, June 13, 1944.
On June 29, 1944, the 101st was relieved from the VIII Corps and sent to Cherbourg to relieve the 4th Infantry Division. The 506th PIR remained as a First Army reserve until 10 July, when Bill and the other returned to England for rest and training. During the Battle for Normandy Bill was awarded the Purple Heart Medal. In August 1944 General Eisenhower established the First Allied Airborne Army, excisting out of elements of the American and British (and Polish) Airborne forces.
Operation Market-Garden was the plan of British Field Marshal Montgomery. Operation Market-Garden would be the first major daylight air assault attempted by a military power since Germany's attack on Crete. The Allies initial plan for September 17,1944, was to use the paratroopers and glidermen of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Division and England's First Airborne Division in a daring daylight drop into Holland. The mission of the 101st Airborne was to secure the 15 miles of Hell's Highway stretching from Eindhoven north to Veghel.
After less than three months in England, Sgt. Bill Straitiff was to make his second combat jump. This time the unit was to land in Holland on DZ B, seize the Wilhemina Canal Bridges at Zon, then move South and take Eindhoven with its four highway bridges over the Dommel River. Shortly after 1315 hours on the afternoon of September 17, 1944, Bill jumped into Holland; and landed at Zon. T he entire regiment landed on one field, and the unit pushed south to Zon with little difficulty. Company A took part in attempting to capture the bridge at Zon (now spelled as Son). The 1st Battalion, Bill's Battalion, led by Major James L. LaPrade, found the two bridges had been blown when the leading group was within 50 yards of securing it. Undaunted by this setback, Colonel Sink ferried his “ Five-O-Sink” paratroopers across the canal, however, the regiment was a day late in arriving at its objective, Eindhoven. By noon of the 18th, the Eindhoven bridges were secured, and at 1830 hours, the British were able to move an armored unit into the town. Company A fought from town to town, starting at Zon to Eindhoven, back to Koevering, to Opheusden, then on to Driel across from Arnhem and repelled every counter-attack the enemy launched. Bill and the others fought in Holland for 72 days.
At the end of November the company moved to a former French artillery garrison just outside the village of Mourmelon. Here they rested, reorganized and received replacements.
Three weeks after arriving in Mourmelon the Battle of the Bulge started. On December 16, 1944, the Germans had launched a major offensive at dawn, west through the Ardennes Forest, in the lightly held sector of the VII Corps.
The 101 st was ordered to the vitally important town of Bastogne which was the key to the German counteroffensive. From Bastogne radiated several roads that were essential to the German juggernaut. The whole 101st Airborne Division was rushed by open cattle trucks for an overnight rush to Bastogne in Belgium on December 18th to Bastogne. The defense of Bastogne by the 101st presented a formidable obstacle to the German Fifth Panzer Army of Hasso von Manteuffel. The Screaming Eagles suffered heavy casualties including the Company's A 1st Battalion Commander, Lt. Col. James L. LaPrade, as the 506th defended Bastogne on the eastern sector established by General McAuliffe. Finally, on December 26th Patton's 4th Armored Division broke through the encirclement and the lifting of the siege of Bastogne began. Bill's Company A fought from December 19, 1944 for 30 continuous days from Noville to Foy to Luzery and other places around the perimeter of Bastogne until relieved 30 days later.
Company A left Bastogne on the 20th of January to in the Alsace Province where Hitler's “Operation Nordwind” offensive, under the personal direction of Heinrich Himmler, was threatening a sector of the Seventh Army front. Here Donald Burgett led a successful night patrol across the Moder River.
On February 23, the men of the 506th were relieved, and returned to Mourmelon, France. Here General Eisenhower spoke to the 101st Airborne Division when the unit was awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation (A.K.A. Presidental Unit Citation) for its stand at Bastogne. This was the first time in the history of the United States Army that an entire Division had been so honored.
Later Company A was moved to the Ruhr Valley where they made a night raid across the Rhine in assault boats into the town of Himmelgeist. Sgt. Burgett described their return as following: “we lay soaked and shiveringin the ruins of the buildings and houses until every member of Company A was either present or accounted for. We had 8 men drowned and 4 killed in fighting and shelling. We formed up in combat formation and walked back to our billets. No one talked, no one boasted of our mission, no one laughed at the funny little things that happened on the other side, we just walked”. That was the last real combat for the men from Company A.
Ruhr crossing map, April 1945
Again Sgt. Bill Straitiff and the others moved through areas of Concentration camps and very little fighting.
Brett also knew to tell me that when Uncle Bill met a German soldier Bill challenged him to a, in Bill's terms, fair fist fight.
Don Burgett writes in his book “Beyond the Rhine”: “Company A moved again, this time to the town of Taxenbauch. Furloughs were now being given out freely according to seniority. It was here that a group of us walked to the river in our almost daily sport of throwing empty wine and schnapps bottles in the river and shooting them with pistols as they swirled and bobbed in the fast moving current. I don't believe we ever hit one. We met an SS man as he crossed a bridge from which we did most of our shooting. He was tall, thin, and wore the traditional uniform of knee high black boots, black breeches and shirt. His cap, belt buckle, and shirt were decorated with silver skull and cross bones. His shirt collar bore the jagged lightning SS symbols. He wore a skull and cross bone ring on one finger, a figure of a serpent wound in and around the bones depicted on his ring. He stood with his upper lip slightly curled back, looking down on us, observing us for several moments. We waited, waited to see what he would do or say. Having seen the concentration camps on our way here and listening to inmates that most of the savagery there had been perpetrated by the SS, each of us wanted an excuse to kill him. Finally he spoke to us, but spoke as though were nothing, that were less than cattle. He was interested in our trooper wings we wore on our jackets and asked what they signified. We told him. Then he pointed at the long rifle with the blue background of the Combat Infantryman's Badge. We could see in his eyes that he was impressed with the CIB and its long gun. Again we answered his question. His lip curled back in a smug, half held back grin. “We don't have such things in the German Army.” he said, as if our decorations were mere bits of worthless tin. We asked him about his decorations, the skull and crossbones emblems on his uniform, and where and how he had fought. He began boasting, telling of the battles he and his comrades had accomplished. He pointed to a small ribbon tucked in at a buttonhole in front of the breast part of his tunic. And said very proudly “Afrika, Afrika. My company fought in Afrika. All who fought there wear this ribbon to show this, that we fought in Afrika.” He had pulled himself up to a stature of attention as proudly pointed to the ribbon. As we talked we gradually wandered to the center of the bridge that spanned the river that ran through Taxenbauch. Here we stood watching the white foam on the rushing water as we listened to the SS man brag about his past and what it took to be an SS man. He told of wild parties, the tortuous lessons given to the Jews and the subhuman Poles. We listened, some of the men becoming so angry that they could hardly restrain themselves. The more he talked the more his eyes glistened as he told of battles and the killing of inmates in the concentration camps. He felt it was right to kill or use subhumans anyway he wanted. I believe he felt he was making an impression on us all the while we were raging inside with boiling hatred. One of our troopers couldn't take it anymore. He stepped forward yelling, yelling for the SS Man to fight, fight with his fists and fight a man who wasn't a hapless prisoner. The German suddenly realized he was in trouble, bad trouble. He refused to fight and tried to ease his way around us and toward the end of the bridge and land. We blocked his way. The SS man turned toward his challenger begging not to fight. “Even if I win, your comrades will beat me.” We stood silent. He fell to his knees, begging not to be beaten. “The war is over. Everything is true but I acted as a soldier. There was nothing wrong in what we did, we are soldiers we followed orders.” Again the trooper challenged him but could not get him to rise to the fight. Suddenly the trooper moved in, lashing out with both fists, beating the Nazi, who tried to cover his face and head with his hands and arms. The trooper pummeled the hapless Nazi till he laid unconscious on the deck of the bridge. Then he stooped and pulled the skull-and-crossbones ring from the SS man's finger and with his foot rolled him over the side of the bridge into the swift water below, and he was gone from sight.”
Uncle Bill always said it was a fair fistfight and no one was killed. Mark Bando, webmaster for Trigger Time and author, said this of Bill's fight “Those of you who read Don Burgett's “Beyond the Rhine” may recall the story of Straitiff's deadly encounter with the SS Trooper.”
?, Molnar, Bill Straitiff in Austria, 1945
(picture courtesy of Brett Hickle)
By the end of April, the entire German force had been eliminated and the Allied forces had captured 325.000 prisoners. The final mission for the 101st came at the end of April. Teaming up with the 3rd Infantry Division they assaulted Hitler's vacation retreat at Berchtesgaden. On 6 May 1945 the 506th reached Obersalzberg and Hitler's “Eagles Nest”. Here the Division accepted the surrender of the German XIII SS and LXXXII Corps. The 101st irborne also captured several key member of the Nazi Regime who were later brought before the War Crimes Tribunal at the Hague. There, in Austria, the 101st stayed until the Germans capitulated. The 101st now was an Army of Occupation. Company A stayed in Bruck, Austria.
The 506th established its command post in Zell Am See, where it remained until the end of July, when it moved to Joigny, France and began preparations to move to the Pacific to lead the invasion of the Japanese mainland. Fortunately for the men of the 101st the war ended with the atom bombing of Japan and returned home a few months later. On November 19, 1945, Sgt. Bill Straitiff was honorably discharged. The final World War Two chapter of the 506th would be written when on 30 November 1945 the regiment was officially deactivated.
This photo is from Fourth of July celebrations in Zell Am Zee, Austria. It was postponed because of a lot of other events on the fourth and the fifth, so it was called Sink on the Sixth
(picture courtesy of Brett Hickle)
The price of victory was high. 2,043 Screaming Eagles were killed in action and 7,976 were wounded. 1,193 became missing in action and 336 were taken prisoner.
Sgt. Bill Straitiff died on March 10, 1999, at age 77.
For more A Company stories:
Pfc. Alfred G. Corgan