In honor of National Airborne Day celebrated on August 16th annually, I’m posting a story about Hugh Wallis from my book ‘They Did It for Honor: Stories of American WWII Veterans.’ I’ve visited him several times and am always blessed by his kind support of my efforts to write about him and other World War II veterans to make sure our veterans are not forgotten.
Thank a veteran today for his/her service!
Here is a short-short vid of Wallis speaking about his experiences at my Youtube channel: WWII Interviews. Please subscribe and tell others of this channel, as well as one I’ve just started of me reading my stories. It is called ‘Stories of WWII Veterans.’ I post a new vid each Thursday.
As part of the 82nd Airborne, Hugh Wallis of Cadiz, Kentucky, carried a M1 rifle, bazooka and a .45 pistol during his drop into Grave, Holland. “Our objective was to take a bridge there,” he said.
Wallis’ jump was successful and he was thrilled to see members of the Dutch underground, mostly peasant farmers, had lent assistance. “They had painted swastikas on the houses of Dutch people who collaborated with the Germans,” he said. “That let us know who to avoid.”
Wallis was drafted into the US Army a year after graduating from Trigg County High School near Cadiz in 1942.
After completing basic training at Camp Polk (renamed Fort Polk) in Louisiana, he read a notice asking men to volunteer to join a special military unit called paratroopers.
“I didn’t know what a paratrooper was,” he said. “But the job paid an extra $50 a month.” As he was not yet 21 years old, Wallis’ parents had to give written permission for him to join.
At Fort Benning, GA, Wallis discovered he had no fear of heights. But it was discomfiting the first time he jumped from a plane to hear the paratrooper after him screaming. “I found out later he was just excited,” he said.
In September Wallis joined a combined group of Allies, including the 82nd and 101st Airborne and French and Polish brigades, dropping in Holland for Operation Market Garden.
“We prepared for our jump by studying a sand table,” he said. “It was like an aerial photo map of Holland with fences, windmills, houses.”
Flying during the day increased the risk of being seen, especially as Allied pilots were forced to fly low to stay under German radar. This practice was nicknamed ‘hedge-hopping.’
When the plane to his left was shot down, Wallis counted the chutes. Sadly, everyone made it out except the pilot who died in the fire.
After landing, the Allies marched through Holland. At the Waal River Wallis’ squad attempted to cross on collapsible row boats overloaded with troops. When an enemy soldier shot a hole in Wallis’ boat, he frantically released the 50-pound pack on his back and jumped in the water. He was soon rescued by those aboard another boat. Due to injuries sustained during the attack, Wallis was evacuated to a British hospital.
But his service was not yet over.
In December 1944 Wallis fought at the Ardennes Forest in Belgiumat what would become known as one of World War II’s most horrific conflicts — the Battle of the Bulge.
Below-zero wind chill caused thousands of soldiers to be treated for frostbite and trench foot. When a medic examined Wallis’ feet, he evacuated Wallis to England for treatment. Wallis was there when the war ended in September 1945.
After his discharge, Wallis trained as an electrician, then moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana, to work at ITT /Farnsworth. He later ran his own TV repair business. “If I could serve my country over again, I would,” he said.