A Conversation With Lt. General Harry W.O. Kinnard, USA-Ret
Then-Lt. Col. Harry W.O. Kinnard parachuted with the 101st Airborne Division into France on June 6, 1944. From there he would lead his men through Normandy, then into Holland, before finding he and the rest of the 101st surrounded at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. It was there that he gained everlasting fame by suggesting General Anthony McAuliffeâ€™s one word response to the German demand for surrender: â€œNUTS!â€
Harry W.O. Kinnard would rise to the rank of Lt. General, and led the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) in Vietnam. At the Ninth Annual Conference, in a conversation moderated by Gene Pell, General Kinnard recalled his experiences, from D-Day to Bastogne.
I would like to start, however, with our Normandy operations so you get a feel for what happened. In the Normandy operation, the 101st dropped in behind Utah Beach (not Omaha Beach), and as a consequence, because we were able to take the Germans off the beach, the 4th Division coming in over Utah Beach had almost a free rideâ€¦very few casualties. Omaha, however, as you know was a terrible bloodbath, and I think it was primarily because there were not enough airborne troops to take the Germans away from the beach line.
I jumped into that operation as the regimental executive officer of the 501 Parachute Infantry Regiment, which was one of three parachute regiments in the 101. I had about one week on that assignment in Normandy, and I then took over the 1st Battalion, whose commander had been killed in the assembly area. We completed the Normandy operation and went back to England on the 17th of July in 1944. He planned a number of operations for after the Normandy operation, all of which were cancelled due to the fact that Patton was moving so quickly across France that our drop zones were constantly being overrun before we could get there. But on the 17th of September, operations that we had planned for Holland did take place. It was an enormous operation named Operation Market Garden. The â€œMarketâ€ part was the land portion, the â€œGardenâ€ was the airborne. We had the British Airborne in the Arnhem area, the 82nd in the Nijmegen area, and we were in from Eindhoven up to the town of Veghel.
My unit, the 1st Battalion of the 501, was assigned as an assault unit of the 501 with the task of capturing four bridges, two over the Aa River and two over the Willems Canal. I studied that plan a little bit, and wondered what would happen if we were to drop south of the Willems Canal; my battalion, as I said, was to make the effort to capture all four bridges. I looked at the map and thought what happens if the Germans blow the Willems bridges before my battalion gets there? We would never make it to the other ones. So I studied the ground, and while I knew it would be very tight, by dropping at 400 feet, we were able to put our men between the two bridges; in other words across the Willems Canal but short of the Aa River, and thus be able to take all of the bridges.