Foreword by Sergeant Len Lebenson, Division Headquarters, 82nd Airborne Division, 1942 - 45. - During World War II, tens of thousands of American GIs had their first introduction to the European Theatre of Operations in the small towns, green fields, rolling hills and forests of Northern Ireland. In the main, these troops had crossed the dangerous U-boat infested Atlantic Ocean directly from the United States. We, the 82nd Airborne Division were different. In order to add some combat experienced seasoning to the armies preparing for the coming assault on Hitler's 'Fortress Europe,' High Command plucked our Division from the Mediterranean theatre and dispatched us to the British Isles. We collected and assembled our widely dispersed elements from Italy, Sicily and North Africa and gathered around the Algerian port of Oran, before setting sail for 'parts unknown'. Just after Thanksgiving Day 1943 we sailed far out into the Atlantic Ocean on the United States Navy transport ship Frederick Funston before heading east and arriving at the Northern Ireland port of Belfast towards the middle of December.
Expecting, as we were, to be heading for England, we were surprised indeed when we found ourselves trundling from Belfast towards the little country town of Castledawson. When we got there, we discovered our camp to be bare-boned basic - corrugated iron huts for accommodation, single coal burning stoves for heat, limited bathing facilities and a scant supply of hot water. Small encampments were scattered all around the countryside in places with exotic sounding names like Ballymena, Ballyscullion and Cookstown. Apprehensive, though full of our usual 'can't beat us' attitude, we shook off the residue of the Sicilian and Italian campaigns, unloaded our gear and adjusted to our new conditions. We had temporarily lost one of our vital components - the 504th Regimental Combat Team, who remained in Italy - but we were about to acquire two new parachute regiments, the 507th and 508th. In command of the division were two top men - Major General Matthew B Ridgway and Brigadier General James M Gavin. Quickly we acclimatised to the limited daylight and found darkness to be our cover and friend.
Soon we had abandoned the confines of our camps and discovered the charm and refuge of the warm and friendly Irish pubs. During our brief time in Northern Ireland we rested, recuperated, reorganised and rebuilt. Replacements arrived and together our training began again in earnest. However, even as we were picking up steam, camps and billets were being prepared for us in the British Midlands and in the early spring of 1944 we left for England to receive airborne training and prepare for our part in the D-Day invasion. Now, some sixty years later, John McCann has undertaken the monumental task of chronicling the days when the 82nd Airborne Division 'passed through' Northern Ireland. In recent years I have come to know John and have benefited from his warm personality and firm dedication to this work. I know his book will be a winner and a source of knowledge and background information for all current and future readers.