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Arno Whitbread
94, Clinton Township
(formerly of St. Clair Shores)
Landed behind German lines

Arno Whitbread was born in Detroit and had an older brother. His father worked to support the family while his mother stayed home to care for them.

He said he was on his way to see his girlfriend, who later became his wife, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

“I said, ‘We sure don’t need no war,’” Whitbread remembered 72 years later.

He was 21 at the time but didn’t run off to enlist.

“I was drafted. They had to come get me,” he said.

Whitbread was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1942 and eventually found himself in the 101st Airborne Division’s 327th Glider Infantry Regiment. He spent a year training in England for the invasion of Europe but made just one practice landing in the rickety gliders.

An Army photographer captured this image of Whitbread, left, during the defense of Bastogne in December 1944.

Two of the powerless planes carrying his group of 10 men, a jeep and a 37mm gun were towed by C-47 transport aircraft across the English Channel and landed in a farmer’s field 10 miles behind German lines at noon on D-Day. They spent June 6, 1944, looking for American paratroopers before they tangled with the Germans early the next morning.

“It seemed like, every day, there was trouble,” Whitbread said of his time in Normandy. “That’s why we lost so many.”

The division went back to England after a month in France and later landed in Holland under British command during Operation Market Garden.

“I lost my best friend going into Holland,” Whitbread recalled. “He was hit in another glider. It went down and smashed, and he was killed right away.”

The 101st eventually got a short break after months of fighting in the Low Countries, only to be loaded onto trucks during the Battle of the Bulge and sent to the woods around Bastogne in knee-deep snow and bitter cold, where they were surrounded and besieged for a week in the days before and after Christmas 1944.

“I’ve never been so cold in my life,” Whitbread said of his time in the Ardennes. “When we got to Bastogne, the town was standing. Seven days later, there was no town.”

He remembered surviving the week-long siege of Bastogne on one K-ration a day.

On Feb. 7, 1945, Whitbread was wounded when a shell exploded near him in France.

“I was on this road, all by myself, and a German, maybe an 88, hit behind me and knocked me down, and took about a half an inch off my helmet,” Whitbread said. “I don’t know how long I laid there. A medic did come up. I asked him, ‘How’s it look?’ He says, ‘Pretty bad.’ That’s all.”

He spent the next five weeks in the hospital with amnesia.

Whitbread rejoined the division and was in Berchtesgaden in the Bavarian Alps when the war in Europe ended, not far from Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest, which he visited twice after the Germans surrendered.

“Of course on the way, you lose men,” he said of the push into Germany.

He stayed on the outskirts of Berchtesgaden for six months until he accumulated enough points to be relieved, and then returned to the United States, having been gone 3 1/2 years and three days.

Whitbread was discharged from the Army in September 1945. Three months later, he married the girl who waited seven years for him. They had a son and a daughter, and stayed in the Detroit area.

He found a job at Chrysler’s Hamtramck Assembly Plant and later spent 37 years working as an upholsterer at the J.L. Hudson Co. warehouse in Detroit.

“Right after the war, at J.L. Hudson, nobody talked about it for a long, long time,” Whitbread said. “I don’t know why, but just didn’t talk about it. And there were quite a few veterans there.”