Note: Thursday, September 17, 2009, marked the 65th anniversary of what is now known as Operation Market Garden, the Arnhem Airdrop, a military offensive conducted by allied forces intended to liberate the Netherlands and, as a result, Nazi Germany. While it succeeded in the first part of its mission, it failed in the second. The event was later dramatized in the film, "A Bridge Too Far." The past several days, thousands of people have been marking the anniversary in Holland with special commemorative observances of that effort to secure the freedom of the European people. Today, in Dutch fields, hundreds of paratroopers from England, America and Holland jumped from the skies to honor those who had done the same 65 years earlier.
The following tribute to one of the principals in that effort honors the memory of all who served, and particularly those who participated in Operation Market Garden, whether flying planes, dropping paratroopers, towing gliders, the pilots, the navigators, the radio officers, the commanding officers, and especially, the men of the 436th Troop Carrier Group, some of whom had their first taste of the realities of war on September 17, 1944.
In the rural countryside of southwest England lies an airfield, long abandoned, where decades ago rows and rows of C-47 Dakotas lined up for parts unknown. There's little left to mark the spot. A few of the original buildings are still there. The Jaquet Weston Plant memorializes those who previously called it home. A local pub fills pints and bellies not far away.
One of the great honors of my life was to be the dinner companion of a handsome, well spoken gentleman at a celebration in St. Louis, Missouri, a dozen or so years ago in the company of several hundred others. The ballroom of the hotel was filled with round tables of eight as far as the eye could wander in any direction, men and women in their finery gathered together in common purpose.
That gentleman, my dinner companion, was guest of honor. The men in that room had all served under his command, fifty years earlier, in the fields of England and France in World War II. Men like Hal Read, and Marty Wolfe. Bill Elmendorf. Gale Ammerman, and Larry Riordan.
Born in Shelby County, Kentucky, in 1916, Adriel Newton Williams went directly into pilot training following his high school graduation, received his wings in 1939, became an officer, and in 1942, assumed command of the 436th Troop Carrier Squadron (79th, 80th, 81st and 82nd Squadrons) of the Army Air Corps, a position he held through the end of World War II.
Primarily towing gliders and dropping paratroopers into combat in battlefields of England and France, the 436th TCG participated in major operations of the European theater, including the Invasion of Normandy (D-Day), Operation Market Garden (Nijmegen-Eindhoven), resupply of the 101st in Bastogne, and crossing the Rhine. Following the end of the war in Europe, then Lieutenant Colonel Williams returned with the 436th Troop Carrier Group to the United States awaiting reassignment to the Pacific, but during their time back in the States the war happily ended, and the 436th was inactivated.
Colonel Williams subsequently attended the Air War College, graduating in 1953, and the National War College, graduating in 1959, assuming command along the way of several assignments, stateside and in Japan. In 1961 he was promoted to Brigadier General and served from that time at the Pentagon, rising to the position of Director of Transportation, U.S. Air Force Headquarters in Washington, D.C. in 1966. Brigadier General Williams was decorated during his military service with the Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters, the Distinguished Flying Cross with three oak leaf clusters, the Air Medal, the Presidential Unit Citation, the French Croix de Guerre with Palm, and the Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant, Thailand.
He was witness to some of the most moving and profound events in recent human history. He was there for D-Day. He was there for Market Garden, when the eyes of Dutch schoolchildren turned upward to witness a sky filled with Allied paratroopers floating earthward. He was there for V-E Day. He was there for hundreds of young men to lead them into dangerous missions far away from the warmth of home and hearth, in the cold hills of southwest England, huddled in tents in France. Membury. Melun. Paris was a whispered promise away, on liberty, with bottles of champagne and daredevil pilots, French farmers who'd trade eggs for rationed cigarettes.
I am happy for the life of General Williams, happier still that he was there for those men of the Second World War, and happiest of all that a half-century later I had the great honor of becoming acquainted with him, sharing his stories, and seeing him be rightly honored by the men of the 436th--pilots, navigators, radio officers, businessmen, husbands, fathers, grandfathers--who paid tribute on that memorable autumn evening in a glittering ballroom in St. Louis.
For further reading about the 436th Troop Carrier Group, I can highly recommend two books written by members of the 81st Squadron: First, from Martin Wolfe, a radio operator during WWII: "Green Light: A Troop Carrier Squadron's War from Normandy to the Rhine," 1993, Center for Air Force History (U.S), and Second, from Gale Ammerman, a glider pilot during WWII: "An American Glider Pilot's Story," Merriam Press, Military Monograph MM65.
Faces of pilots and crewmen at the Holland briefing (photo courtesy Dr. Martin Wolfe, private collection).