On August 19, 1942, the first commander of the newly formed 101st Airborne Division, Maj. Gen. William Lee, told his recruits that while the 101st had no history, it had a “rendezvous with destiny.” And so it would, as the brave young men of the 101st fulfilled that prophecy, parachuting into Normandy the night before D-Day, holding out against all odds during the siege of Bastogne, and leading the drive into Germany, taking Hitler’s mountaintop retreat known as “The Eagle’s Nest.”

It seemed at every turn, E Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, was there. No matter how tough the going, these men hung together, relying on each other to survive, and ultimately defeat, one of the most evil ideologies the world has known. Along the way, they became more than soldiers, they became brothers.

Five veterans of E Company came together at the Ninth Annual Conference to share their experiences. Moderated by Adam Makos, editor of Ghost Wings magazine (www.ghostwings.com), the panel consisting of Lynn “Buck” Compton, Bill Guarnere, Ed “Babe” Heffron, Don Malarkey, and Earl McClung remembered their role in what has become one of the most celebrated stories of WWII.

Adam Makos: I will ask the gentlemen on our panel, who were trained at Camp Toccoa, Georgia, to share some stories or anecdotes from your time at Camp Toccoa, or your time elsewhere in training.

Don Malarkey: When I arrived in Toccoa, it was the first week of September, 1942. I came to Toccoa with a shipment of guys out of Ohio. A soldier named Bob Rader, and another named Don Hoobler. The three of us ended up at Toccoa at the same time. I was put in a tent with five or six guys who were getting kicked out of Toccoa. For a day and a half all I heard was them complaining that, “they didn’t give me a chance, they kicked me out,” and such, and they kept talking about the mountain, which scared the hell out of me. So they took me up to E Company, and I set up a cot at the end of the barracks.

At the barracks, I started talking to two guys who lived close to me in Astoria, Oregon. I kept questioning them about this damn mountain I heard so much about. One of them, Tom Burgess, said to me, “put your trunks on, we’ll run you up there.” So the very first night I’m there, after they’d already run it once that day, these two guys decided to run me up there to see if I could do it. I didn’t do it as well as they did, but I made it through. That was my baptism of fire in Toccoa. If you were going to survive it there under Captain Sobel, you had to run that mountain. For all the criticism about Sobel—and I participated in a lot of it I’m sure—whatever we did, he did. If we were on a forced march at night, he would be there. If we had to run the mountain, he would run the mountain. He wasn’t just a dictator, he would do the stuff that we had to do along with us.

Adam Makos: After the men trained, and trained, and trained at places like Benning, McCall, Bragg, Shanks, they went over to England. June 6 came—that was D-Day—and most of the men on our panel were there for the invasion of Normandy, France. Can you tell us about that?