D-Day Paratrooper falls prey to Covid-19

An American hero has fallen to the Coronavirus and the world may never see the likes of him ever again.
Ninety-eight-year-old George Shenkle, a card-carrying member of the “Greatest Generation” took part in the invasion of Normandy more than 75 years ago, freeing our universe from the evil of the Nazis. He served as a paratrooper with three combat jumps – including both D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge — and got a purple heart in return for the wounds he received after hitting the ground and running into enemy fire and explosions.
He didn’t know at the age of 21 when he enlisted and became member of the Army’s 82nd Airborne in 1942 that he was to take part in the largest amphibious assault ever. No more than 25 percent of the troop were expected to survive although a good 50 percent eventually made it back home.
“D-Day,” as the Sixth of June since been called, started a two month-long attack on the beaches of Normandy, France, and led to Hitler’s downfall a year later. It almost never materialized. General Dwight D. Eisenhower was ready to quit as commander of the Allied Forces when England Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his Air force leader opposed the plan. They gave in to Ike’s demand and as they say, the rest became history.

IKE 2

Dwight Eisenhower addressing paratroopers the day before the D-Day Invasion.

When we flew over the English Channel, we saw thousands of boats crossing, we thought we could walk on water.” Shenkle recalled in an interview with Marc Laurenceau of the D-Day Overlord association. “Above the French coast, we were hit by anti-aircraft fire. We were relieved to leave the plane!
As a radio operator, Shenkle provided communications between headquarters and his commanding officer. But the latter jumped far from the drop zone and he did not find him, according to Laurenceau (See post at D-Day Overlord).

Our mission was to protect two bridges over the Merderet River, at La Fière and Chef-du-Pont,” Shenkle reported. At dawn, with a few soldiers, he joined a group of 200 paratroopers awaiting orders. They took possession of what was designated Hill 30, According to Laurenceau. For three days, the paratroopers defended this promontory against German assaults.

German casualties were at a staggering 320,000 (30,000 dead, 80,000 wounded and the rest missing) and Allied casualties were at about 230,000 (more than 45,000 dead).
The entire operation was one of the bloodiest battles ever for Americans, as 19,000 U.S. soldiers lost their lives and more than 70,000 were wounded or went missing. For comparison, of the 12,000 British casualties, 200 were killed.
Over the course of “the longest day” of June 6, 1944 over 10,000 servicemen – Brits, Frenchmen Poles and other allies of the Americans who suffered the lion’s share of those killed or wounded.
He was awarded the French Legion of Honor in 2014 by both Presidents François Hollande and Barack Obama.

——-

Many of the men returning from the war suffered from nightmares, depression, rage and some even turned to alcohol, drugs and a few to suicide. This man became crotchety, some would even call him a “curmudgeon” in a more loving way as he roared like a lion at home and at work. He suffered from an untreated life-long dose of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) which was labeled as Battle Fatigue for World War II and “Shell shock” from World War I. “A Soldiers’ Heart is what doctor’s called the injuries of soldiers who fought in the Civil War.
But no bullet, no artillery shell or no landmine ever stopped this man. He survived flack shot at his airplane, which was part of an aerial armada C-47 Skytrain or C-53 Skytrooper which carried the elite paratroopers on their mission to seize objectives ahead of the seaborne landings.
No, the enemy never got to him in 1944, but the Virus of 2020 did. “These are no ordinary times,” is what his daughter, Rebecca Goff, said of the battles her father engaged in during World War II. The same can be said today about our battle with a different enemy as we honor this man who placed himself in harm’s way so that his family, friends and nations of the world would have a better life.

Photo Source: Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3a26521.

19 comments on “D-Day Paratrooper falls prey to Covid-19

  1. cabrogal says:

    He served as a paratrooper with three combat jumps – including both D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge

    Are you sure of that?
    I’m not aware of any paradrops during the Bulge. The weather was pretty awful.

    BTW, I once met a German anarchist peace activist who fought in the Battle of the Bulge as a teenager. He was in the Waffen SS under Otto Skorzeny and ended the war with some serious decorations, including for knocking out two T-34s in quick succession with panzerfausts as they overran his position. He told me the following joke, which he says was popular among German troops on the Western Front.

    “If you see white planes, that’s the USAF. If you see black planes, that’s the RAF. If you see no planes at all it’s the Luftwaffe.”

    Like

    • contoveros says:

      I am simply relaying information provided to me by the veteran’s daughter. It could be that he took part in the invasion by truck or by foot and not by air.

      Not too crazy about a former Nazi fighter recollection, but I will accept this as he turned out to be an “anarchist peace activist.”

      Like

      • cabrogal says:

        The joke was the only recollection he relayed to me. The rest came from his biography. His unit conducted Operation Griffin, in which Germans disguised as American MPs infiltrated US lines to reconnoiter and sow disruption, but as his English was poor and he was too young to pass as a GI he was deployed in a conventional infantry role. He was injured by artillery and evacuated without even seeing the enemy.

        I’m a collectivist anarchist myself. That’s how I met him. But I don’t concern myself with the politics of individual soldiers unless they serve in an overtly political role. There’s no such thing as a just war to me. All sides are politically reprehensible, even when forced to defend home and hearth. But that in no way detracts from the nobility and sacrifice of the participants (though their own actions can). I think the Bhagavad Gita resolves the moral contradictions between warriors and wars fairly well. As a peacenik from an Army family with a horrid fascination for military history it sure helped me.

        Both the 82nd AB and the 101st AB served with distinction in the Battle of the Bulge but I’m pretty sure neither jumped. The 82nd played a critical role in snapping off the German spearhead, Kampfgruppe Peiper. The 101st defended Bastogne.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Beth Swartz says:

    George attended Central Schwenkfelder Church, which I where we became acquainted. He knew I was a teacher in a nearby school district. One thing led to another in our conversations, and George volunteered to speak to Social Studies classes one day, all day, the last day before Christmas vacation one year! He showed a power point of pictures of artifacts and memorabilia which he shared with high school students all day long. He was thrilled to have had the opportunity to speak with young people. He could be quite a character! He always looked forward to his trips back to France. He will be missed!

    Liked by 1 person

    • contoveros says:

      He became a major part of history as an Army paratrooper who volunteered to fight in one of the most decisive battles of all time. D-Day was the indeed the turning point the world needed to overcome the evil of the Nazis.

      All Americans can appreciate persons of that era and understand why we call them members of the “Greatest Generation.” Your experiences with George Shenkle confirms that he continued his inspirational activities throughout his life and touched so many people both young and old with his memorable stories!

      Like

  3. Unbelievable, what he endured. So sorry he succumbed to COVID, Michael. Sending good thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

    • contoveros says:

      This was the first person I knew indirectly who died from the virus. Rebecca was his daughter. She is a long-time friend who I have meditated with and enjoyed her cooking for an annual “feast” sponsored by the Center for Contemporary Mysticism of Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia.

      I also served as a paratrooper but never made any combat jumps.

      What a life, what a history he lived!

      Like

      • Paratrooper cool.

        I went to Bryn Mawr my freshman year before transferring to U Penn.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Rebecca says:

        Dear Michael, Thanks for the “shout out” about all the incredible memories we have enjoyed! You and I have continued to find each other amongst the finest people. I suppose cause we keep seeking goodness in humans, and we find it! Take care my friend, and keep spreading your light and energy, the world 🌎 needs YOU!

        Liked by 1 person

        • contoveros says:

          Rebecca,

          I am grateful to finally have met and made friends with some of the most enlightening people on God’s green earth. They may have a slight touch of the devil in ’em, but they sure can have fun and help each other through the good times and the bad.

          Like

  4. Kate says:

    We had the privilege of meeting your dad at one of the Friends and Family of the 508th reunions. He was very sweet! Not curmudgeonly at all. I’m sorry for your loss. He was a great man.

    Liked by 1 person

    • contoveros says:

      Thank you for your kind words. I will pass this onto my good Rebecca!

      Like

    • Rebecca says:

      Hi Katie, George was affectionately called a curmudgeon, if there ever was one! He could keep his patience in short spurts, and his “whatever” was expressed in all tones! We will not see the likes of this man again, as his greatest generation contained so many complications! After he could no longer live on his own, as he got into trouble, he resented being “told what to do”. A good analogy was an old lion on the Serengeti, captured, and placed in a zoo, God he roared to no avail. I rest assured he is at Peace now. 🙏

      Liked by 1 person

  5. contoveros says:

    My good friend Janet Mather re-blogged this post on Facebook.

    She wrote that this is a story about the father of a dear friend, who died last week. By another dear friend . . .
    ——————-
    Michael J Contos
    Janet, I really got into this Blog the more I read about the history of D-Day and the wonderful article done in France of Rebecca’s dad by the Overlord organization. (It was printed in the French language and I got my son to show me how to translate it.)

    Rebecca has a lot to be proud of despite her dad being a curmudgeon most of his life.
    Can’t wait to see you and her in person in the next several months!
    ——————–
    Janet Mather
    I realized there is a slim chance that my uncle may have crossed paths with her father. He was in the 82nd Airborne, and also a paratrooper, killed at the Battle of the Bulge. Never met him, of course, but have letters he wrote.
    ——————
    Michael J Contos
    You should contact Rebecca. She has contacts with some of the old veterans who attended services in Normandy and they may know some army buddies who remembers him. Battle of the Bulge. Helluva story for both of your families!

    Like

  6. Rebecca Shenkle Goff says:

    Michael, you are a great writer, Patriot, and friend. Thank You for spreading words for reflection, wisdom, and healing. God Bless 🙏

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply to Kate Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.