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By Marshall McClung
Memorial Day was first established in 1869 as a day set aside in remembrance of our war dead. May 30 is the day formally observed with the last Monday in May observed as a legal holiday in most states. Memorial Day this year has a special significance as 1995 marks the 50th anniversary of the ending of World War II. Earlier this month we observed V.E. Day (Victory in Europe) marking the surrender of Germany. World War II carried a heavy price as does our freedom we enjoy today. It is estimated that forty million people were killed in World War II.
Arvil Webster is one of several veterans in Graham County who fought for our freedom in this terrible war. Arvil was a PFC in the U.S. Army. He was in Company E, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division. Arvil saw action in Africa, Sicily, Anzio in Italy, and Holland, and was wounded twice.
Arvil has a framed print of a particular battle he was involved in in Holland by Jim Dietz. It is entitled "Making it Happen" and depicts the landing of Arvil's outfit and others to capture a series of bridges from the Germans. The mission was called "Operation Market Garden" and involved 36,000 paratroopers of the 82nd and 101st U.S. Airborne Divisions and the British 6th Airborne Division. They were called the First. Allied Airborne Army.
The bridge Arvil and his outfit were assigned to take was the Grave Bridge across the Maas River in Holland. Arvil boarded a C-47 aircraft in Leicester, England, flew across the English Channel, France, and Belgium. The date was Sunday, September 17, 1944. The jump occurred at one o'clock in the afternoon from an altitude of six hundred feet. This was the altitude for a combat jump to allow the enemy less time to shoot at you.Arvil recalled after one particular jump finding his canteen and pack full of bullet holes when he landed, but not a scratch on him.
When Arvil and his outfit landed, they found German troops guarding the Grave Bridge who began firing at them. A four hour battle ensued and the Americans took and held the bridge. The Germans then attempted to destroy the bridge with dive bombers but were unsuccessful. Arvil's outfit also seized the high ground around the bridge and were shelled with mortars and heavy artillery by Germans across the river. That night, they would run into squads of Germans everywhere. A house to house search ensued with German troops found under beds and in closets of nearby homes. The Dutch Underground would show the American troops where the Germans were.
Arvil entered the U.S. Army at the age of 19 in April, 1942. He was involved in 22 parachute jumps. He was wounded in Italy in 1943 and spent four months in a convalescent hospital. The Army was going to assign Arvil to lighter duty, but he requested to be sent back to his own outfit even though this meant more combat. Arvil explained that soldiers develop a sense of belonging, a comradeship, with those they have trained and fought side by side with. Arvil said that in combat those who are in battle with you become closer to you than a brother. Arvil was wounded again in Holland on October 1, 1944. He spent two years in Moore General Hospital in Swannanoa where he received bone and skin grafts.
Arvil received several medals while in combat. He was awarded the Purple Heart with Cluster for being wounded twice, the Bronze Star, the Belgium Government Campaign Medal with Battle Star, Combat Infantry Badge, parachutist Badge, American Defense, and W.W. II Victory Medal.
Marie Rogers Webster, Arvil's wife also served in the war effort at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. She was a Cubicle Operator which had to do with machines that controlled part of the process of making the Atomic Bomb. Of course Marie had no idea at the time that she was helping make the bomb.
This year, this Memorial Day, remember those like Arvil who fought and suffered, and the many others who died preserving our freedom. The price they paid is too high, the cost too great, for us to ever forget.
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This page is maintained by Tom Livingston, Robbinsville, North Carolina