Wing and a Prayer

, Michael P. Tremoglie, Leave a comment

It is said that freedom is not free. The wise person knows this to be true. However, it takes more than wisdom to know the exact value. If anyone knows the price, it is the men of the 101st Airborne Division. They know it all too well because they have paid it many times.

They are known as the Screaming Eagles, the men of the 101st Airborne. They are among our finest, these men who descend from the sky into harm’s way to engage America’s enemies — and keep freedom’s lamp burning bright.

Their history and their distinctive patch are known worldwide because they have traveled the globe. And wherever they went, tyrants trembled, dictatorships dissolved, the enslaved were freed.

From Normandy to Bastogne to Iraq, the Screaming Eagles have exhibited all that is gallant about our military personnel. For each generation of Americans, there are the brave and the young who are called to go forth and vanquish freedom’s foes. These are the men that our society delegates as guarantors of our independence. These are the people we look for in times of crisis. These are the people we ask for help in desperate hours. They are worth commemorating in this season of military remembrance.

The character of these men is exemplified by the deeds of four of them — separated by two generations and 1,000 miles.

It is January 1945 — the Battle of the Bulge. The Germans are shelling a unit of the 101st. Sgt. William Guarnere learns that one of his men — a comrade — is seriously wounded.

Guarnere, of South Philadelphia, attempts a rescue, disregarding his own safety. He had already been wounded earlier in this same battle. Still not fully recuperated, he left the hospital to rejoin his comrades on the front line. This is a trait not uncommon among Screaming Eagles.

Guarnere is wounded again during this rescue attempt. This time he will not be returning to the front lines — he lost his leg to an artillery burst.

Although Guarnere — who was a featured in the movie “Band of Brothers” — risked his life, he will tell you that he is no hero. Others would have done the same thing he will say. Besides he returned home.

The real heroes, Guarnere says, are those who did not return.

Almost 50 years later, Sgt. Justin W. Garvey, Sgt. Douglas W. Norman and Sgt. Jason D. Jordan, all of the 101st, also volunteered, like Guarnere, to help their colleagues in peril. Nothing compelled them to do so. Nothing, that is, other than the knowledge that their comrades were in distress.

Two paid with their lives, the third was severely wounded.

The time is July 2003. The place is Iraq.

Information is received about a pending ambush of a 101st Airborne outpost. Because of a communications failure, the men manning the post cannot be warned by radio. Someone has to warn them.

Garvey, Norman and Jordan volunteer.

Garvey’s enlistment has expired. He is due to return to the states.

He does not have to go. Someone else can do it.

Norman dismisses the driver of one of the vehicles and goes in his place.

He too does not have to go. Someone else can do it.

But go they do.

After warning the post, they are ambushed while returning. Garvey and Jordan are killed. Norman is wounded.

Two died — and will never be forgotten by their comrades. Norman re-enlisted in their honor while recuperating in the hospital.

These men should be accorded the tributes furnished to Cincinnatus of Rome, Leonidas of Sparta and the colonial soldiers at Valley Forge.

The German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once wrote:

“Yes! to this thought I hold with firm persistence; The last result of wisdom

stamps it true; He only earns his freedom and existence

Who daily conquers them anew”

The members of the 101st Airborne have earned their existence, their freedom. Their legacy is that of free men sacrificing themselves to provide others the opportunity to be free.

This is the greatest of legacies.

So that the memory of the brave will not be forgotten in the land of the free, Gregg Garvey, the father of Sgt. Garvey, started a foundation called “Lest They Be Forgotten.”

Information about it and how to make a contribution can be found at

Michael P. Tremoglie is author of the critically acclaimed novel A Sense of Duty, available at This article originally appeared in The Philadelphia Bulletin.