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WWII US Army veteran shares his experience as paratrooper

Published on January 24, 2014 by Shane Gibson

Inside the shell repacking room at West Coast Ammo on Saturday, Jan. 18 approximately 30 individuals attended a World War II story presentation orchestrated by Linda Dudik, PhD. Dick Field, guest speaker and Army veteran, served in the B Company 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion.

Dudik used PowerPoint to present Field’s story with facts and pictures in chronological order, and guests were immediately enthralled with his WWII story.

Volunteering for the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion, Field knew of the highly intense training involved with the program, but as Field said, he “wanted to do something special.” Paratroopers are trained to land behind enemy lines.

“Being a paratrooper is not all glamorous,” Field said. “All it means is it gets you to the battle quicker – once you’re on the ground, you’re infantry.”

Field completed basic training in 1943. When an officer from Airborne School came to his camp and asked for volunteers to join the Airborne, Field was more than interested in jumping out of planes.

“It paid $50 more a month,” he said.

Moving on with his training in the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion, Field experienced what was considered a tragedy.

At Camp Mackall, the 551st Infantry was set to execute their one and only night jump training exercise. Bad weather, inexperienced pilots and a target zone on a narrow piece of land between two lakes proved to be fatal for eight paratroopers that night. Eight men drowned during the training exercise, but despite the tragedy, what the men learned from the jump became an asset during the war.

In the spring of 1944, Field, along with the 551st Infantry, arrived in northern Africa for what was the beginning of their time in the European Theater of the war. By August of 1944, the 551st Infantry was sent into their first combat jump during Operation Dragoon, the Allied invasion of southern France.

The 551st Infantry jump into southern France was historically significant because it was the first daylight jump behind enemy lines. Linda Dudik shared a famous picture taken from the air of a sky full of paratroopers.

Dudik said, “What they don’t tell you of this famous photo is that it’s the 551st (Infantry).”

After Operation Dragoon, the 551st Infantry occupied the Maritime Alps before being attached to the 82nd Airborne in December of 1944, when the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium began and 600,000 men were thrown into war.

One million men were involved at the Battle of the Bulge, counting enemy forces. The Battle of the Bulge, Dudik says, “was the greatest battle ever fought by the US Army.”

Three weeks into the battle, the 551st Infantry – starting with 800 men – was down to 250 men.

“Most deaths didn’t come from the German forces – it was the cold weather,” said Dudik.

Hundreds of men suffered from frostbite during the excessively harsh winter.

During the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes Forest, despite being severely fatigued and constantly cold for three weeks, the 551st Infantry was ordered to rush attack Rochelinval where the unit suffered a high casualty rate.

The number of casualties was so high that the 551st Infantry was stripped down to platoon size, resulting in the unit being disbanded and the remaining men transferred to the 82nd Airborne Division.

The illustrious presentation of Dick Field’s story, aided by Linda Dudik, would not have been possible without the help of Field’s family. Dudik explained the importance of holding onto historically significant pieces handed down by family members – just as Field’s family did.

After the presentation, attendees asked Field questions about his World War II experience.

“Those people who showed up were one of the most engaged audiences I have ever had the pleasure to interact with,” said Dudik upon conclusion of the presentation.

Robert Griffin, manager at West Coast Ammo, met Dudik while attending Pearl Harbor survivor meetings in Oceanside with his son Nate. Griffin and his son expressed genuine interest in the stories told by the war veterans.

Aware of Dudik’s public presentations of WWII encounters, Griffin asked Dudik if she would prepare a presentation once a month at West Coast Ammo. She agreed.

In February, Dudik will have a Pearl Harbor survivor share his story at West Coast Ammo. Everyone is welcome to attend.

For more information on Linda Dudik’s non-profit educational organization, visit www.wwiiexperience.com.

West Coast Ammo is located at 41892 Enterprise Circle South, #B in Temecula. They can be reached at (951)719-3272.

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