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Monday, May 2, 2016

Gray Matter: 'The Jedburghs'

Monday, July 17, 2006

"The Jedburghs," a volume of narrative history, appeared in print some months ago with much less fanfare than it deserved.

The book is available at your local library, on-line, or through any good book store - locally, that means The Bookseller. It is the WW II story of a Special Forces unit made up of American, British and French volunteers who parachuted, in teams of three, behind the German lines to assist with the recapture of France in 1944. These remarkable young men were trained surreptitiously in England where they blended in with the rest of the forces, always affable, but very tight-lipped about their mission. Come "D-Day", June 5, 1944, that mission became evident. Forming three-man teams, one from each country, they were trained and equipped to aid the French Resistance in subduing the German forces, thus easing the way for the advancing Allies.

Retired army officer Lt. Col. Will Irwin, a native of Marcus, Iowa, is the author of this remarkable book. The name doesn't ring an immediate bell with most of us for we remember only Wyman Irwin, eldest son of Cecil and Bonnie, graduate of Marcus Schools, Class of '68. It develops that when he was asked his name upon first reporting for army duty, he replied, in the approved manner, "Wyman William Irwin". The commanding officer requested that he repeat his name a couple of times and then summarily announced, "I've never heard of that first name and I'll never remember it. From now on you will be Will." In true army style, that was that!

Wyman, I mean Will, was an engineering student at the University of Nebraska at Omaha in the early '70s when the draft lottery was held. As his was a low number, he chose to go for a three-year enlistment, thus giving himself some choice in the direction he would take. He was first sent to Ft. Ord, CA for his brief initial training with every intention of returning to Omaha to continue his education. But fate intervened when he was chosen for Army Airborne at Ft. Bennington, GA.

This was so appealing to the young soldier that he decided to make the military his career. Following the training in Georgia, he was attached to Ft. Bragg, NC, part of a Special Services unit. This, then, became the branch in which he served until retirement. Though it was a comparatively peaceful time, several of his involvements in paratrooper skirmishes across the world would make a book of their own, in my opinion.

Being able to continue his education while in the service, Irwin pursued his MA at the Combat Studies Institute of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth, KS. There his interest in the Jedburghs was first aroused. His good friend, instructor and commanding officer, Dr. Samuel J. Lewis, encouraged him to research the intriguing story for his Master's Thesis.

By 1985, he was a captain on the staff of the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center at Ft. Bragg. Because of his pioneering work on the story which was only then being declassified by the CIA, he was invited to help host a reunion of Jedburgh veterans. In meeting these remarkable individuals and their families, his determination to record their story firmly took root. However, it was not to be realized until after his retirement when he could devote full time to the project. Two decades of interviews and research, all meticulously documented, went into the book.

I advise you to find a copy of this fascinating read, and while you are relishing it, do remember that the author is one of Cherokee County's own!