Denis M. Parsons
US Army, 101st Airborne Division, 327th Glider Infantry Regiment
World War II (1942-1945)
Denis M. Parsons was a Sergeant with the 101st “Screaming Eagles” airborne division. Parsons was drafted into the army in November 1942 after Pearl Harbor. He trained at Camp Roberts in Paso Robles, California for three months. After his training there, Parsons joined the rest of the 101st in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He trained with his new soldiers all the way up until the invasion of Europe began in 1944. The 101st regiment Parsons belonged to was the 327th and it was a glider regiment. The 101st is an airborne unit which means it utilizes airplanes to parachute out of gliders to accomplish their objective. Parsons carried an air-cooled machine gun and a thirty –caliber M1 carbine. He didn’t carry the standard issue M1 because it was too heavy to carry both firearms. Parsons’ MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) was similar to a modern 11B, which is an infantryman. At this time, Parsons wasn’t sure which theater he’d be fighting in, until he and his division were shipped to Europe.
The men Parsons trained and fought with were also drafted. Most came from the Midwest and East. Parsons still has a close friend from the service who lives in Minnesota. There were only one or two men from California, one of which lives in San Jose. They relied on each other, especially during the Battle of the Bulge, when they were low on every supply that they needed. The unit’s survivors remain in touch to this day. Parson and I discussed the Band Of Brothers movie series and how it related to his experiences. According to Parsons, the film accurately portrayed the events. Parsons claimed, “he and his men were like a band of brothers because they needed to rely and trust each other in order to survive”.
After training in England, D-Day finally arrived. D-Day was the beginning of the invasion of Europe by the Allied Forces. The 101st dropped in behind the beaches that night in airplanes and gliders. The bulk of the force went through the wall the Germans erected for Hitler’s Fortress Europe. Unfortunately, this was a very bloody part of the war because the Nazis were able to mow down many soldiers coming on to the beach. The airborne units that landed behind the enemy were scattered and lacked organized support and logistics for most of the battle. Parsons was not in the initial invasion because there was a lack of gliders to take him in. Instead, he arrived D-day plus one at about noontime.
This was Parsons first exposure to combat and he moved cautiously by crawling and lying prone. Parsons said that his training definitely prepared him for combat. After 33 days of fighting in Normandy, Parsons’ unit was pulled back to England for resting, training, and meeting replacements and reserves. Parsons was in England from July until September, when he invaded the Netherlands. For this invasion, the 101st airborne, the 82nd airborne, and a British Paratroop regiment combined. General Montgomery, who was an Englishman, led them. They came in from the North in an effort to try and flank the Germans and end the war quicker. Unfortunately, the British landed right near a German training camp and armored division. They were destroyed and came out with 15% of their men. The invasion was a failure. They fought until November. Parsons’ forces were out of action for three weeks until the Battle of the Bulge.
Parsons was positioned near Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. Bastogne was strategically important because it was a hub for roads. Unfortunately, the Allied soldiers did not have enough food for the amount of time until they were resupplied. In addition to being hungry, Parsons and his men were very cold. This was one of the coldest winters in Belgium and temperatures were constantly below zero degrees Fahrenheit. An interesting fact is that Parsons and his men had no idea that they were surrounded and cut off from their supplies. Parson thought he was winning the battle and was surprised to see the Germans wave a white flag to come over and try to get the Allies to surrender. This was Germany’s last offensive and Hitler was planning on dividing the Allied armies. By taking the strategically important town of Bastogne, Hitler would be able to cut off the Allied supply line. According to Parsons, Hitler relied on his Sixth Panzer Army, comprising of four SS Panzer Division. The allied planes were unable to take off for a few days because of the weather. The Germans advanced steadily until the skies cleared and allied planes were able to fly. Finally, the ground soldiers received reinforcements from General Patton and his tanks shortly after Christmas.
After the Bastogne battle, Parson continued fighting in Europe. A funny story he told me occurred after this battle. Parsons and his men were eating dinner when the Germans began to shell them. One of the soldiers was cooking and he accidently spilled the gas stove and some gas on another soldier’s pants. The soldier burned off all the hair on his legs, but was not injured too bad. Parsons was injured during his tour of duty, too. He got trenchfoot, which is similar to frostbite. Once Germany surrendered, Parsons’ unit was responsible for guarding Ghoering’s loot. Ghoering was a German Air Force Commander and had stolen many valuable art pieces, gold, cars, etc…. Parsons saw loaves of bread that were made out of gold that were so heavy, he could barely pick them up. According to Parsons, one soldier stole a Rembrandt painting, so a few times a day, every soldier was searched in an attempt to find it.
Overall, I think the war was a positive influence on Dennis Parsons’ life. He seems proud of his service for the country, as evidenced by his vast collection of World War II memorabilia, especially the collectibles that contain the Screaming Eagles insignia on them. Parsons learned a lot in the military. One trait he learned in the army carried over into his life after the war. This was the ability to get along with everyone. Four days after Parsons returned home from the war, he was offered his old job back at the movie theatre where he worked before the war. During the 1950s, television became popular, so he switched careers and became a barber. Parsons currently lives in San Rafael, California.
Interview by Davis Cooper in June 2004.
St. Mark’s School 8th Grade Oral History Project
St. Mark’s School Faculty Advisor: Mike Fargo