THESE BOOTS ARE MADE FOR WALKING
“These Boots Were Made For Walking
And That’s Just What They’ll Do
And One of These Days
These Boots Are Going
To Walk All Over You…”
~ excerpt from Nancy Sinatra song
The paratroopers did just that when landing into Normandy and Holland in the year 1944.
The United States’ Airborne Soldiers were one of the most specialized group of individuals during World War Two and were equipped and uniformed as such. Their overall combat uniform was the M-1942 Paratrooper Uniform, which consisted of the M42 Jump Jacket and the first combat cargo trousers issued in the 20th century. The uniform would not have been complete without a nice shiny pair of boots to go with it.
One of the primary reasons why paratroopers were issued specialized uniforms was due to the nature of their missions. Airborne units would be expected to sustain themselves and fight behind enemy lines for days on end. The cargo pockets on their uniform were needed for extra equipment and ammunition. Their boots however were designed to give extra ankle support for rough parachute landings. Paratroopers carried an average of 70 pounds of equipment with another 30 pounds for radio communicators. Officers averaged 90 pounds of gear. With the parachute, men weighed in at 90 to 120 pounds over their body weight. The paratroopers were jumping into unknown territory and needed to be prepared for any encounter or conditions.
The boots themselves were eventually replaced by the “Double Buckle” M-1943 Combat Boots beginning in 1944, around the time of Operation Market Garden in Holland. Many paratroopers retained their jump boots and continued to wear them until the end of the war and during the early years of Germany and Japan’s occupation. Although the American military had converted to the “Double Buckle” boots which were issued to all paratroopers for the Holland invasion in September 1944, the popularity and durability of the original Jump Boots was hard to ignore and eventually a version of them were issued to all soldiers in the Korean War and in the early stages of the Vietnam War. The boots themselves have gone through various configurations and they have been one of the many models of boots that have been the “boots on the ground” for every American conflict since WWII up until modern day.
American Jump Boots were designed to jump out of airplanes, land behind enemy lines, and survive combat. That might be a lot to ask of a normal military set of boots, but Jump Boots met the challenge and proved their worth, conflict after conflict. With a set of these boots on, there really wasn’t any challenge that Russell Johncox couldn’t conquer in his daily missions as a 101st Airborne paratrooper with the 501st PIR, Hq. Russell fought in the European battle campaigns of Normandy, Holland and the Battle of the Bulge.The attached etching is of Russell Johncox and was done by Henry Schwabe who was later killed in action. Stephanie Johncox Redden who conveyed that her father became gravely injured during the Battle of the Bulge on January 10, 1945 graciously supplied the etching. When it was reported to his mother that he was not going to make it, she sent a return telegram back asking for his boots. Apparently, a paratrooper’s boots were the envy of many men. Russell Johncox did survive and returned home having to endure many surgeries and a long road to recovery and spent a year in the hospital at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Russell had countless skin grafts done while recovering from his facial injury. The grafts were done to help a fellow paratrooper. The kindness and devotion to another speaks accolades of what kind of man Russell Johncox was and resonates in his spirit and memory.
Russell Johncox went on to marry and raise 6 children born from 1946–1965. He worked for Ford and later began working for the CIA in 1960. Stephanie remembers the opportunity of spending the first six years of her life on Camp Chinen on Okinawa. Her father said that he traveled the world armor plating cars. She reported that her father met King Hussein of Jordan and Margaret Thatcher, both of whom he liked. That is a story in itself with answers that only Russell Johncox could answer. Stephanie also recalls that they were giving aid in the Vietnam War. In 1979 or 1980, her father asked her if she wanted to move to Iran for his job. She told him that she wanted to finish school with her friends. She was very thankful that the agency understood and did not make the family relocate. Perhaps there was a bit of heavenly intervention as well. If the family had gone to Iran, they would have been there during the hostage crisis a.k.a. “Argo”. Her father became ill and that would not been good either with the treatment being so much better in the United States. Her mother passed away when she was 11. Stephanie’s father retired in 1980 after having a stroke and passed away when she was only 18, the youngest of the six children.
Many years later, Stephanie would have the opportunity to meet many veterans such as Medic Dave Tuel who did his best to address her father’s facial injuries during the war and other men who gave her so many answers to things that her father chose not to discuss with her as a young girl. Glen Derber was also a great source of help. He was a wonderful man with a dry wit. Stephanie made two static line jumps and after her second jump, her sister handed her their daddy’s jump wings. She wore them to a reunion and Derber said “How many jumps did you make to earn those wings?” When she replied “two”, he kind of huffed and said “We had to make five”. She has her father’s flag, which she cherishes along with her memories of her father who fought in Normandy, Holland and the Battle of the Bulge. Stephanie also went to a reunion and heard some funny stories but the most of the guys stayed “Mum…” She was told that they signed contracts and since they were part of a most awesome generation not to expect answers.
Our airborne fathers had much hidden pain, memories that were too difficult to share with us. These men were not solely defined by their service to this country. The stories being published here are a testament to their diversity and life with family, friends and business relationships. It is only after their passing and connecting with one another that we can begin to understand our fathers. And in understanding our fathers, perhaps we are beginning to know ourselves a little bit more. The Indian name Currahee stood for “We Stand Alone” and was adopted as the battle cry for the 101st Airborne Division, The Screaming Eagles.
May all soldiers stand-alone together, in times of war and peace and travel safely and journey back home again.
God Bless Our Veterans!
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