Today we remember them as the Greatest Generation: the millions of Americans who survived the Great Depression, served in World War II, and made America the most powerful nation on the earth. They came from all different races, classes, and areas of the country, but they were united in their belief of service and sacrifice to country. Red Falvey was one of those men we are all indebted to. I found Red and his story through my radio show, Morning in America.
All Red Falvey wanted for his twenty-first birthday was the right to jump out of planes, to see the ground rushing up, feel terror for a few short seconds, then pull the cord and watch the parachute billow above and the world swing below him — but now he was standing in front of the recruiter, and the stern-faced man with the notepad asked if there was anything wrong with his body.
“I can’t touch my left shoulder.”
The recruiter’s face crinkled up, “Aw, you’ll never get in. To get into airborne, you have to be 110 percent and there’s no way that they’re going to let you in.”
Red Falvey walked out of the recruiting station, discouraged but not defeated. It was Aug. 2, 1942, and the boy from Yonkers, N.Y., — who broke his arm climbing a tree — was a patriot. On Dec. 7, 1941, when the crackle of the radio interrupted his life and President Roosevelt called him to battle, he knew what he had to do.
It was on that day of infamy when he was calling on the girl that he would someday marry and be with for 54 years — Leona Swarthouse — that bigger news came rolling over the airwaves. Falvey couldn’t point out Pearl Harbor on a map, but one thought kept turning in his mind: Those silly little fools, do they have any idea what they’ve done? Don’t they know we’ll wipe them up in a week?
Growing up, Falvey spent much of his free time at the airfields, watching the barnstorming tours of planes with his brothers. He knew he wanted to be up in the air. Regardless of what any army recruiter told him, Falvey wanted to be airborne.
Despite his injured arm, Falvey proved the recruiters wrong and successfully enlisted in the 506th Infantry Regiment (known today as the popular Band of Brothers).
The 506th Regiment was an experiment, a test to see whether men could be better trained by being wholly devoted to the sky, rather than starting with 13 weeks with feet on the ground.
“We had to save time; the brass were trying to hurry things along and get us ready for combat,” said Falvey. “There was nothing easy about that training, and so many of those boys couldn’t handle the intensity. They washed out.”
It’s a fitting term of the service — “washing out” — because before the boys of the 506th could ever break over the beaches of Normandy, they had to beat against the trials of Fort Benning, Ga. — and more than a few were not equal to the task.