David Kenyon Webster
Webster during World War II
|Nickname(s)||Dave, Web, Einstein, Professor, Keen|
2 June 1922|
New York City, New York
9 September 1961 (aged 39)|
Santa Monica, California
|Place of burial||Lost at sea|
|Service/||United States Army|
|Years of service||1942–1945|
|Rank||Private First Class|
|Unit||E Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division|
|Other work||Journalist, Author|
Private First Class David Kenyon Webster (2 June 1922 – 9 September 1961) was an American soldier, journalist and author. During World War II he was a private with E 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 City and was educated at The Taft School, Watertown, Connecticut. He was of English and Scottish descent. In 1942, he volunteered for the paratroopers before having a chance to finish his studies as an English literature major at Harvard University. He used his middle name "Kenyon" while addressing his family in his letters to home rather than his first name, David.
Webster trained with Fox Company of the 2nd Battalion at Camp Toccoa. He parachuted into France on D-Day with Headquarters Company of the 2nd Battalion, then requested a transfer to Easy Company, with which he served until his discharge in 1945.
From a wealthy and influential family, Webster could have arranged an officer's commission stateside, but he wanted to be a "grunt" 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 parachuted into the Netherlands as part of Operation Market Garden. Later in that campaign, he was wounded in the leg by machine gun fire during an attack in the no-man's land called "the Island" (also referred to as "The Crossroads"), near Arnhem, where the company was relocated after Operation Market Garden ultimately failed. He was evacuated to a hospital and spent the next several months recuperating from his wounds.
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.:201:220 What he found was a decimated regiment, exhausted, weary and bitter over his absence and the loss of friends. Soon thereafter, Easy Company discovered their first concentration camp, witnessing firsthand the walking and also the unburied dead of the Landsberg Concentration Camp.
Author Stephen 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".:171
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 Camp Toccoa veterans who had fought in Normandy to be sent home after the surrender of Nazi Germany. When he finally was discharged in 1945, he returned to work as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Daily News. Webster took up sailing and fishing and made a hobby of studying oceanography and marine biology.:301 During those years he worked on his wartime memoirs and occasionally approached magazines with article proposals related to his WWII service, but he never attempted to publish a full treatment of his experiences in the 101st Airborne Division.
He married Barbara Jean Stoessell in 1952 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 while shark fishing off the coast of Santa Monica on September 9, 1961.:301
Except for a few short stories in magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post, Webster's wartime diary and thoughts remained unpublished at the time of his death. 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. She did so, and a book was published, with Ambrose's foreword, 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.
The Taft School established an award for excellence in writing in Webster's honor.
- David Kenyon Webster letters
- A Brief Biography of David Kenyon Webster, Author of Parachute Infantry
- Winters, Richard D.; Kingseed, Cole C. (2006). Beyond Band of Brothers. Waterville, Maine: Large Print Press. ISBN 978-1594132360.
- 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.
- California, County Marriages, 1850-1952," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:K8DY-668 : 28 November 2014), David Kenyon Webster and Barbara Jean Stoessell, 01 Feb 1952; citing Los Angeles, California, United States, county courthouses, California; FHL microfilm 1,283,751
- "Biography". David Kenyon Webster. Kenyon Webster. Retrieved 15 May 2017.
- "Endowed Funds/Enrichment". Taft Alumni. The Taft School. Retrieved 14 May 2017.
David Kenyon Webster Prize. For excellence in writing.
- Webster, David Kenyon (1972). Myth and maneater: The story of the shark. Angus and Robertson. ISBN 978-0-207-12265-1.
- Webster, David K. (1994). 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.