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Lamar T. Wansley ‘39
Lamar T. Wansley '39, a member of UGA's Greatest Generation, passed away May 30, 2007. Following is a special memoir written by Loran Smith ’62 ABJ and published in the June 21, 2007 edition of the "Athens Banner Herald." (It is used with the author's permission.)
Stories of Alumni Legacies and Troops, Campus History and the Greatest Generation
Virginia Ann Wansley Darden '65 ED, was two-years-old before she ever met her daddy, Lamar.
A native of Carnesville, Lamar Wansley was commissioned through the University of Georgia's Army ROTC program in 1939 and reported for airborne training in January, 1942. His wife, Ruth, was pregnant with Virginia Ann when Wansley was sent to England for pre-invasion training in 1943.
He was a first lieutenant with the 101st Airborne Screaming Eagles and landed near Utah Beach in the afternoon of D-Day, one of the 23,000 airborne troops to cross the English Channel for the battle that would enable Allied Forces to gain a foothold on the European continent. It was the beginning of the end for Adolph Hitler and his Nazi regime.
Wansley survived D-Day and a subsequent landing in Holland where the Germans had dug in to defend the Fatherland, refusing to retreat any further and forcing heavy losses, in particular, on General Montgomery’s Army. This was the disastrous battle at Arnhem, but Wansley and the 101swt escaped without great casualties. Finally, Wansley survived the Battle of the Bulge at Bastogne, Belgium and returned home without a scratch.
Ruth all this time watched as many of her friends, most of them in their early 20s, became war widows. Virginia Ann was one of the fortunate babies, born after their fathers went off to war, and saw her father return. An Athens resident since 1980, her daddy survived to tell her what it was like on that fateful day.
Wansley, who spent his post-military career with Georgia Power, won a Bronze Star, the official citation reading:
“First Lieutenant Lamar T. Wansley, 1136504, glider infantry, while serving with the Army of the United States, distinguished himself by heroic achievement in action. On 23 December 1944, during attack on Marvie, Belgium, his battalion was divided by enemy action and communication lines to higher units were destroyed…. Wansley volunteered to lay a new line between the split unit and repair a line to the main body. Exposed to heavy enemy artillery and small arms fire and under direct enemy observation, he personally re—established the communication system between the units. His courage and aggressiveness enabled the commanding officer to gain control of the battalion and repel the enemy attack….”
Characteristically of so many veterans, Wansley talked about his experience reluctantly. When he did, he noted, “Don’t say too much about me because I didn’t do all that much. A lot of others did a lot more than I did. Some, you know, gave everything.”
Lamar Wansley entered service weighing 140 pounds and dropped down to 117 pounds during the war. Skimpy diet obviously had something to do with it, but it was the hard, anxiety-filled life that influenced the weight loss. Troops were always lugging heavy equipment and wore extra layers of clothing to stay warm especially in the winter of 1944 when the Battle of the Bulge began.
D-Day for Wansley, as it turned out, was not that eventful. His glider was towed across the English Channel in the afternoon of the invasion. He and his men could see where they were going and landing was not as critical as it was for those who went in at night several hours earlier.
Still there was danger aplenty since any glider landing is, in itself a dangerous mission. Wooden aircraft rebuff tracer bullets about as well as construction paper stops a sharp pencil. Landings are always risky and hazardous. One bump or ditch in the terrain and the plywood construction breaks up and breaks life and limb with reckless abandon. It was a case of one glider landing and one trailing trying to find open space to pout down without rear-ending the glider in front. It took a lot of pilot skill to keep gliders from landing on top of one another.
The landing was compounded by unending confusion. Linking up with other units as planned was difficult since many glides missed their prescribed landing sites. Nevertheless, linkup was being achieved gradually although more than half of each division (THE 82nd Airborne under General Matthew B. Ridgway and 101st Airborne under General Maxwell Taylor) were unaccounted for at the end of D-Day. The two divisions, however, had secured the western edge of Utah Beach.
“The serious fighting for us came about the 12th of June,” Wansley remembered. “That was when we realized how difficult it was going to be. The German soldier was a dedicated fighter. I lost a lot of buddies when the counter attack was at its peak. It was a terrible experience.”
It was several days after the invasion before Wansley learned how fierce the fighting had been at Omaha Beach and how many casualties resulted for America’s best and most seasoned infantry.
In the summer of 1994, Wansley returned to Normandy with his family and said before going, “I know how others have dealt with going back. They look forward to it, but when they get there and begin to recall what happened, it is a tough emotional experience. I’m not sure how I will handle it, but I am looking forward to the trip for one important reason. I want to pay my respects to all those who did not make it home. I know how fortunate and how lucky I was. I thank God every day of my life.”
Lamar Wansley belonged to the Greatest Generation. He was proud and patriotic. He lived out his life grateful to be able to raise a family, serve his church and community and follow his beloved Georgia Bulldogs.
He never forgot his buddies who rest in peace in the American cemeteries of Europe. He could never recall his experience without remembering them and choking up when he did.
What is so poignantly obvious with the Greatest Generation is that while survivors were not called on for the ultimate sacrifice, they all went there willing to do so.