COLUMN: ‘All the Way’
I’m inspired to write this column for four reasons. We just had our annual reunion at the camp house of former Special Forces Colonels, who served together in years past, and I am naturally pumped after that gathering of Eagles, but Saturday, May 19, is Armed Forces Day, followed on May 28 by Memorial Day remembering fallen heroes of this nation.
Finally, the real encouragement to write this came as I was looking at a faded photograph taken during World War II of First Lt. Claude D. Wallace Jr., and his new bride, Bea Ballow Wallace. That picture was given to me by Dr. Stanhope Brasfield, who was kin to Claude as I was to Bea.
Claude was an athlete, and gave of his time as a Scoutmaster down in Linden Town. On May 9, 1942, he was commissioned as a Second Lt. in the U.S. Army, and reported to Ft. Benning, Georgia for parachute training. He was then assigned to the famed 101st Airborne Division, and for the rest of his short time here on this earth lived by the Airborne creed of “ALL THE WAY!”
I can remember so well when he was home on leave, getting ready to shop out overseas, and I was awe struck by my first paratrooper up close. I knew right then, at that early age, that I would do that one day. Daddy, who was also home on leave from the tank corps, went back over to our house, and came back with a pistol to give to Claude since soon to be Captain Wallace had made the statement that he would not be captured alive.
Claude jumped into Normandy during the pre-dawn hours of D-Day, and survived the fight, receiving several decorations, followed by a jump into Holland during Operation Market Garden. Then came the encirclement of the 101st “Screaming Eagles” at a Belgium crossroads town called Bastogne. The Battle of the Bulge was made famous by the HBO series “Band of Brothers.” Those episodes depicted the actions of Company E, 501st Parachute Infantry, all the way from Normandy, through Holland, Bastogne, until the end of the war.
In the book, “Rendezvous With Destiny,” written by a member of Claude’s unit, Company I, 501st Parachute Infantry, the author made the statement that Captain Wallace was the bravest officer he knew. Then in the book, “Four Stars of Hell,” by Critchell, that survivor of the battle wrote that when Captain Wallace and his men were overpowered by German Tiger Tanks,, Wallace directed his men to withdraw, and as the survivors looked back, they saw the figure of their captain, standing at the barricade, still fighting, maybe even with the pistol my daddy had given him. Of the 200 soldiers of I Company who went into the town of Wardin outside Bastogne, only 83 survived.
Claude Wallace, whose brick with KIA engraved on it sitting at the Marengo Veterans Monument, had been promoted to Captain on Nov. 11 (Armistice Day), 1944, and was killed in action on Dec. 19, 1944.
My hero died as he said he would …. fighting “ALL THE WAY!”
Many times over the years as I have been given the Airborne greeting by my fellow paratroopers, I have often thought of Captain Wallace, and how he lived all the way. All the way to the end, protecting his troops, and doing his duty. The Scoutmaster from Linden, Alabama, whose young widow never remarried, but remained true to her own hero until her death.
This, my dear friends, is but a brief history of one man who helped shape the history of this world … in days gone bye. Claude D. Wallace Jr. was but one individual whose life, along with the lives of his fellow Americans, inspired the naming of his generation as Americans as “The Greatest Generation.”
— Tom Boggs is a columnist for the Demopolis Times and a native of Marengo County. His column,“Days Gone Bye,” appears weekly.