Airborne Soldiers Meet in Wheeling

WHEELING – Nearly 70 years after dropping into Nazi Germany to battle the forces of Adolf Hitler, surviving members of the U.S. Army 17th Airborne Division recall facing severe enemy fire on their way to the ground during “Operation Varsity.”

“They had been tipped off that we were coming. The casualties were great. There were 1,070 of us killed and 4,000 wounded in a matter of 12 hours,” Col. John Kormann said in reference to the Germans firing on himself and fellow paratroopers.

A group of World War II veterans met for a reunion Saturday at the Wheeling Hampton Inn. Joining Kormann were fellow 17th Airborne soldiers Pfc. Eugene Herrmann, Pfc. Leonard Lindenbaum and Pfc. Ed Good, along with relatives of each.

“We were the only Airborne division to be dropped directly into an enemy country during World War II,” Kormann, a native of New York City and graduate of Columbia University, said.

On March 24, 1945, the U.S. and Great Britain combined to assemble a force of about 18,000 men to perform “Operation Varsity.” The entire 17th Division dropped into Germany near the Rhine River, ultimately achieving their objectives.

Kormann said he also held the rank of private first class during the drop, but received a commission as a lieutenant shortly thereafter, before ultimately working his way up to colonel.

“We trained in Tennessee in 1943-1944,” Kormann said. “We also participated in the Battle of the Bulge.”

Good, a Pittsburgh native who later moved to Detroit, said he was a telephone lineman and switchboard operator during the war. Herrmann is a Cleveland native who works to arrange reunions with fellow soldiers.

Lindenbaum, a Los Angeles native, said he was with a group that did not make it to Europe in time for the March 24, 1945 drop, but joined fellow paratroopers in the fight upon arrival.

Kormann said four members of the unit received the Medal of Honor, recognizing valor in action against the enemy: Sgt. Clinton Hedrick, Pvt. George Peters, Pvt. Stuart Stryker and Sgt. Isadore Jachman.

“World War II was America’s finest hour,” Kormann added.