Private First Class David Kenyon Webster (June 2, 1922 - September 9, 1961) was an American soldier, journalist and author. During World War II he was a private with Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, in the 101st Airborne Division. Webster was portrayed in the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers by Eion Bailey.
Webster was born in New York and educated at The Taft School, Watertown, Connecticut. He was of English and Scottish descent. In 1943, he volunteered for the paratroopers before having a chance to finish his studies as an English literature major at Harvard University. He used his middle name "Kenyon" while addressing his family in his letters to home rather than his given name, David.
Webster originally trained with Fox Company, jumped on D-Day with Headquarters Company of the 2nd Battalion, then requested a transfer to Easy Company and served in the Company until discharged in 1945.
From a wealthy and influential family, Webster could have arranged an officer's commission stateside, but he wanted to be a "grunt" and thus be able to see and document the war from a foxhole. By most accounts, he did not like what he saw and had great disdain for Germany's audacity in creating the war.
On D-Day, Webster landed nearly alone and off-course in flooded fields behind Utah Beach, and was wounded a few days later. He also jumped into the Netherlands in Operation Market Garden. Later in this campaign, he was wounded in the leg by machine gun fire during an attack in the no-man's land called "the Island" (also referred to as "The Crossroads"), near Arnhem, where the company was relocated after Operation Market Garden ended. Before he was wounded, his squad's machine gunners Mike Massaconi and Clancy Lyall were low on ammo. As Webster was their ammo bearer, Clancy and Mike yelled at him to bring more ammo, but Webster did not move out of his foxhole. After numerous shouts from both men, Clancy took out a grenade and threw it right in Webster's foxhole. The pin on the grenade was still in place, unbeknownst to Webster. Webster quickly fled up the dike to get ammo.
While recuperating back in England, Webster missed the Battle of the Bulge fighting and rejoined his unit in February, 1945 after being formally released by the hospital. What he found was a decimated regiment, exhausted, weary and bitter over his absence and the loss of friends. Soon thereafter, Easy Company discovered their first concentration camp, witnessing firsthand the walking and also the unburied dead of the Landsberg Concentration Camp.
Author Stephen Ambrose had this to say about Webster: "He had long ago made it a rule of his Army life never to do anything voluntarily. He was an intellectual, as much an observer and chronicler of the phenomenon of soldiering as a practitioner. He was almost the only original Toccoa man who never became an NCO. Various officers wanted to make him a squad leader, but he refused. He was there to do his duty, and he did it - he never let a buddy down in combat, in France, Holland, or Germany - but he never volunteered for anything and he spurned promotion".
Awards and decorations
His list of authorized medals and decorations are:
- Bronze Star
- Purple Heart with one oak leaf cluster
- Good Conduct Medal
- European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with Arrowhead and 4 service stars
- World War II Victory Medal
- Army of Occupation Medal
- Presidential Unit Citation with one Oak Leaf Cluster
- Combat Infantryman Badge
- Parachutist Badge with 2 jump stars
He was the last of the surviving Toccoa veterans who had fought in Normandy to be sent home. He returned to work as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Daily News and found great enjoyment sailing, studying oceanography and sea life. During those years he worked on his wartime memoirs and occasionally approached magazines with an article but deferred any wholesale treatment of the war.
He had a wife (Barbara), whom he married in 1951, and had three children. His interest in sharks led him to write a book on the subject entitled Myth and Maneater: The Story of the Shark. However, Webster's interest in aquatics eventually may have led to his demise, as he was lost at sea off the coast of Santa Monica on September 9, 1961. As his body was never recovered, it is generally assumed that Webster drowned.
Except for a few short stories in magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post, Webster's wartime diary and thoughts remained unpublished at the time of his death. However, Stephen Ambrose, a tenured University of Louisiana System professor of history (specifically, at the University of New Orleans) who had studied Webster's writings, was so impressed by the historical value of Webster's unpublished papers that the professor encouraged Webster's widow to submit the writing package to LSU Press. She did so, and a book was published, with Ambrose's foreword, by LSU in 1994. Titled Parachute Infantry: An American Paratrooper's Memoir of D-Day and the Fall of the Third Reich, it presented Webster's first-hand account of life as an Airborne infantryman. His trained eye, honesty and writing skills helped give the book as well as the miniseries a color and tone not available in other G.I. diaries.