Kentuckiana's Greatest Generation - Ernie Slone

Ernie Slone
Ernie Slone
F Company 517 Parachute Infantry
F Company 517 Parachute Infantry

Ernie Slone

Ernie served three years with F Company of the 513th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 17th U.S. Airborne Division. He served in the European Theater.

Ernie's family writes of his service - This was the first American war fought by paratroops, and in fact the U.S. military didn't even know how to train at first. His unit was among the first trained to be paratroopers, America's first "special forces." The Army set the highest standards ever established for a military unit.

The men, all volunteers, knew that this new type of warfare demanded mental and physical capacities beyond the high levels required of regular infantry. They were jumping behind enemy lines, sometimes at night, in terrible weather conditions, often while being fired upon and getting scattered from each other and ammunition and supplies.

Even the training itself was sometimes deadly. For example, the Army didn't know how much equipment a soldier could jump with, and at times the soldiers were given too heavy a load and they were killed on impact.

My father's unit spearheaded two invasions, and he won the Bronze Star for gallantry in action, and the Purple Heart for severe injuries during the Battle of the Bulge, fought during the harshest European winter in 40 years.

My father was a medic, and repeatedly risked his life to retrieve wounded men from the battlefield during the firefight, stepping directly into machine gun and tank and mortar fire. Snipers targeted any helmets with insignia, and several medics in his outfit died this way.

Simply put, he risked his life for his buddies. When German Tiger tanks knocked out U.S. armor support, his unit joined forces with the British. He was blown off the back of a British Churchill tank while attacking Panzer troops when American forces broke through the German Army's stranglehold west of Bastogne, Belgium.

Only a handful of the original members of his outfit survived, and all were severely injured. My father spent nearly a year recovering in hospitals. He went to school on the GI bill, and learned how to operate a Linotype typesetting machine. He worked in newspapers, spending most of his career at The Courier-Journal before his death in 1979.

Famed combat photographer Robert Capa jumped with my father's unit and recorded their heroism with photos that appeared in Life magazine on April 9, 1945. The story of his specific outfit, and the brutal nature of war, is told in a recently published book, "The Sky Men," the story of the first paratroopers in combat.

My father's hair was jet black when he shipped out, and solid white when he returned. He rarely talked about the war, and never displayed his medals or never spoke of himself as a hero. He was positive and focused on the future, building a family, at times working two jobs to ensure his children had a chance at a good education. He was the finest man I have ever known. But it was only in the past year, more than 20 years after his death, that I finally read the graphic stories of his outfit's wartime experience. It is only now that I have come to fully realize how much he sacrificed for his country, and what a terrible price was paid for our freedom.

submitted by: Patricia Peet & Ernie Slone, Jr