David Kenyon Webster
Webster during World War II
|Nickname(s)||Web, Einstein, Professor, Keen college boy|
June 2, 1922|
New York City, New York
|Died||September 9, 1961
Santa Monica, California
|Place of burial||Lost at sea|
|Service/branch||United States Army|
|Years of service||1942-1945|
|Rank||Private First Class|
|Unit||Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division|
|Other work||Journalist, Author|
Private First Class David Kenyon Webster (June 2, 1922 - September 9, 1961) was an American soldier, journalist and author. During World War II he was a private with Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, in the 101st Airborne Division. Webster was portrayed in the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers by Eion Bailey.
Webster was born in New York and educated at The Taft School, Watertown, Connecticut. He was of English and Scottish descent. In 1943, he volunteered for the paratroopers before having a chance to finish his studies as an English literature major at Harvard University.
Webster originally trained with Fox Company, jumped on D-Day with Headquarters Company of the 2nd Battalion, then requested a transfer to Easy Company and served in the Company until discharged in 1945.
From a wealthy and influential family, Webster could have arranged an officer's commission stateside, but he wanted to be a "grunt" and thus be able to see and document the war from a foxhole. By most accounts, he did not like what he saw and had great disdain for Germany's audacity in creating the war.
On D-Day, Webster landed nearly alone and off-course in flooded fields behind Utah Beach, and was wounded a few days later. He also jumped into the Netherlands in Operation Market Garden. Later in this campaign, he was wounded in the leg by machine gun fire during an attack in the no-man's land called "the Island", near Arnhem, where the company was relocated after Operation Market Garden ended. Webster was fighting with Lt. Nicholas Fazio at the time, and witnessed Fazio's death shortly before he himself was wounded. Fazio had been of Italian descent and more importantly, of royal descent, and Webster never trusted him.
While recuperating back in England, Webster missed the Battle of the Bulge fighting and rejoined his unit in February 1945 after being formally released by the hospital. What he found was a decimated regiment, exhausted, weary and bitter over the loss of friends. Soon thereafter, Easy Company discovered their first concentration camp, witnessing firsthand the walking and also the unburied dead of the Memmingen Concentration Camp.
Author Steven Ambrose had this to say about Webster: "He had long ago made it a rule of his Army life never to do anything voluntarily. He was an intellectual, as much an observer and chronicler of the phenomenon of soldiering as a practitioner. He was almost the only original Toccoa man who never became an NCO. Various officers wanted to make him a squad leader, but he refused. He was there to do his duty, and he did it - he never let a buddy down in combat, in France, Holland, or Germany - but he never volunteered for anything and he spurned promotion".
Awards and decorations
His list of authorized medals and decorations are:
- Bronze Star
- Purple Heart with one oak leaf cluster
- Good Conduct Medal
- European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with Arrowhead and 4 service stars
- World War II Victory Medal
- Army of Occupation Medal
- Presidential Unit Citation with one Oak Leaf Cluster
- Combat Infantryman Badge
- Parachutist Badge with 2 jump stars
He was the last of the surviving Toccoa veterans who had fought in Normandy to be sent home. He returned to work as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Daily News and found great enjoyment sailing, studying oceanography and sea life. During those years he worked on his wartime memoirs and occasionally approached magazines with an article but deferred any wholesale treatment of the war, perhaps in favor of reflecting and trying to make sense of it.
He had a wife (Barbara), whom he married in 1951, and had three children. His interest in sharks led him to write a book on the subject entitled Myth and Maneater: The Story of the Shark. However, Webster's interest in aquatics eventually may have led to his demise, as he was lost at sea off the coast of Santa Monica on September 9, 1961. As his body was never recovered, it is generally assumed that Webster may have drowned.
Unable to see a salient theme for his greater wartime experience, publishers showed little interest in another memoir. However, Stephen Ambrose, a tenured University of Louisiana System professor of history (specifically, at the University of New Orleans) who had studied Webster's writings, was so impressed by the historical value of Webster's unpublished papers that the professor encouraged Webster's widow to submit the writing package to LSU Press. This she did and, with Ambrose's foreword, a book was published by LSU in 1994.
Titled Parachute Infantry: An American Paratrooper's Memoir of D-Day and the Fall of the Third Reich, it presented Webster's first-hand account of life as an Airborne infantryman. His trained eye, honesty and writing skills helped give the book as well as the miniseries a color and tone not available in other G.I. diaries.
- DeAngelis, Frank. "Webster's shadowbox". Retrieved 2009-10-14.
- David Kenyon Webster letters
- A Brief Biography of David Kenyon Webster, Author of Parachute Infantry
- Ambrose, p.169.
- Winters, p.201.
- Ambrose, p.220.
- Ambrose, p.171.
- Ambrose, p.301.
- Ambrose, Stephen E. (1992). Band of Brothers: Easy Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-7434-6411-6.
- Webster, David K. (1994 (posthumously)). Parachute Infantry: An American Paratrooper's Memoir of D-Day and the Fall of the Third Reich. Bantam Dell. ISBN 978-0-440-24090-7.
- Webster, David K. (1963). Myth and Maneater:The Story of the shark. Norton. ISBN 0-207-12265-2.