517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team
Jesse Aubrey Darden
460th - HQ Co
Born 1st April 1925 at Utica, Bryan County, Oklahoma. Parents, Aubrey and Etta Mae Bagwell Darden were rural schoolteachers. He has one sister born in August 1926.
Jesse finished grade school under his parents teaching, completed high school in 42/43 at Kiowa Oklahoma.
Jesse spent 2 summers 41/42 in Nevada with the C.C.C. (Civil Conservation Corp.) After high school graduation he wanted to join the Navy Air Corp. So his Dad took him to Dallas Texas for his physical and testing. He passed, BUT was diagnosed as partially color blind.
So no Navy Air Corp. Back Home one of his friends came up with the idea of the airborne since they paid $50.00 a month Jump Pay. This sounded great, as it would get him up in the air, at least one way. Well it worked as the both enlisted in the service at Fort Sill, Oklahoma on 28th June 1943. There they volunteered for the Airborne.
CAMP TOCCOA, GEORGIA
They shipped us out to Camp Toccoa Georgia for our basic training. There our home was long white barracks with rows of bunks on each side with an aisle in the middle. When you left the barrack you were required to double time (run) to where ever you were going as well as back to the barracks. All of our time at Camp Toccoa was spent running, eating, running & physical training. This was meant to weed out the boys from the men, but it only made men out of the boys.
CAMP MACKALL, NORTH CAROLINA
After Toccoa, we were sent to Camp Mackall, N. C. A place with beautiful tall pine trees. I later found out why we were where they were tall pine trees. As part of our training we fell out before daylight and running through the area where they had cut the trees and left the stumps at about 4” (inches) tall. Lot of high stepping as I remember. The training was touch but I made it. Sometimes wondered if I would.
At Camp MacCall is where we went through firing weapons, field training over creeks, ground etc. Then on to Fort Benning Georgia.
FORT BENNING, GEORGIA
Here we had more training, running, parachute jumping from a tower & etc. Also we learned to pack our own chutes for the qualifying jumps.
We practiced by jumping from a 250” tower, using a mock-up door. After all this training we were ready to really jump. With our chutes on we entered the plane. As we came to the crop zone, the Jump Master called for us to stand up, Hook up (to a cable in the plane), and stand in the door. When the green light came on he hollered “GOOOO, GOOOO” And we did just that. The chute opened with a jerk and I looked up to see the white parachute above my head. I made the 5 qualifying jumps with no problems.
We completed our required jumps that made us a “True Jumper” with wings to prove it as well as the jump boots. This was of great pride to an “Oklahoma Country Boy”. Now a “MAN”. I was assigned to HQ Btry 460th FA as a radio operator, voice and code. The training was hard, but at only 19 years old, nothing could stop me.
This had to be the hellhole in Tennessee. Rain, Wet, Muddy & Cold. The war games were between the Red Teams and the Blue Teams If I remember right.
Well while on one patrol my unit came across a large tent in the woods, with two (2) guards at the entrance. Not our Colors, so we captured them. We stormed into the tent to find a large C.P. table with 6 or 8 high-ranking officers around it. We shouted, “You are captured.” Only to find out they were coordinating the whole team maneuvers. Well on down the road we went, laughing about what had happened.
At the end of the war games it was back to Camp Mackall to prepare for training prior to the trip to Europe.
CAMP PATRICK HENRY, VIRGINIA
17, May 1944
After a few days we were marched to the seashore. We climbed the gangplank. The 517th boarded the “Santa Rosa”, while the 460th and the 596th boarded the “Cristobal”. Our ship was one of about twenty (20) in the convoy to Naples, Italy. Landing in Naples May 21st, we boarded railroad cars for the staging area Neapolitan, then on the “the Crater”.
On June 14, 1944 the outfit struck tents and moved to the beach at Naples to wait for the LSTs to carry us to Auzio, where the 517th saw their first combat, Frascati, Civittavecchia, Grosseto, Italy.
H-Hour & D-day was set for 0800 15 August 1944. The 460th less one Battery, Serial # 8 from Montalto.
The 517th PRCT in France at Aix, Avignon, Montelimar, Valence, Lyon, Chalons sur Saone, Dijon, Chaumon, St. Dizier, Chalons, Reims. Soissons.
Paris, Nice, Rome, Mont Calos were places we had leave to relax and enjoy.
On May 12th, the 517th returned to Joigny an in August were stayed through the “Cigarette Camps” (Lucky Strike) (Phillip Morris) to board the ships, “Oneida Victory” and “Madawaska Victory”, while half way to the states, Japan’s surrender was announced. We arrived in New York with Whistles blowing and foghorns blaring. WHAT A WELCOME HOME!
AFTER WW II
I was discharge, 4 November 1945. Returned to McAlester Oklahoma. Met my future wife, who I had corresponded with. We were married, bought a G.I. House. Went to work and on to college under the G. I. Education Plan.
About September 1950 I received notice to return to active duty. 9 November 1950 the date of re-entry again at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Upon reporting I still had my Eisenhower Jacket with Patches & ribbons, and when I reported the clerk ask why I was there. I told him that active reserve caught up with me, “So here I am”. Well I was sent on to Hq & Hq Bttry VI Corps at Camp McCoy Wisconsin. There the clerk asks me the same question, “What are you here for?” Same answer. He said “I’ve got just the job for you.” “What is that?” I ask. He replied, “We have just got a new base commander and he needs an aide (driver, etc.).” I quickly said “THAT IS FOR ME”. Well you can guess what that was. The motor pool kept the car clean, and at the HQ every day for approximately one year. Then back to McAlester to start life over.
Finished college in 1956 at Eastern Oklahoma A & M. Had one son who went to Oklahoma State (OSU) under a R.O.T.C. scholarship. Then he went on into the military (army). He retired after twenty years of service as Lt. Col. William Darden.
(Not Much later)
Jesse married his present wife Lou 38 years ago and they have 2 children, Kristie & Tom, and 7 grandchildren. Kristie is married to Chuck Wright. They have 5 children, 4 boys and a girl. Tom is married to Chrissy Book Darden. They have 2 girls. Kristie is head of a direct mailing company in Austin, TX and also is a homemaker. Chuck is a unit director with Xerox. Tom served with the 4th Marine Division in the Persian Gulf Was as a Tow Gunner in a tank Battalion. He is now a Senior Computer LAN operator for the FAA in the record keeping office at Will Rogers Airport FAA complex. His wife Chrissy is a homemaker.
LIFE IN A SMALL CITY
IN McALESTER, OKLAHOMA
Down through the years Jesse has served the city in many duties. McAlester Tree Board, City Planning Commission, City Housing Authority, Assistant City Manager as well as sixteen years on the McAlester School Board.
Jesse went to work for North American Rockwell in 1964, where he was in Quality Engineering, working on the space shuttle program, as well as other programs. All about the air. Still wanting to fly. Never did though. Only aboard the planes as a passenger. He worked for North American Rockwell when it changed to Boeing. He worked for twenty three (23) years. Retired in early 1987.
He turned to his hobbies on retirement. He restored antique cars. Six in all. His favorite was his 1925 one ton model T truck. It was a flat bed. He placed 6 beer barrels on the flat bed. Which made quite a conversation piece at car shows. One other favorite was a large red four-door 1919 Reo sedan. It was said that it came from Chicago. It had a hand held spotlight that came through the split windshield. Quite a Car!
All I do now is travel in the motor home along with, wife, dog & cat. At age 79 on April 1, 2004 life has slowed down quite a bit.
The reunions of past years have been great.
Lou & I hosted the 2003 Bi-annual Reunion in Oklahoma City. What a great time we had. Not just the reunion, getting ready and then after it was over. Hearing from everyone.
The Barretts are doing a great job with the 517th Web Site. It sure keeps all of us in touch and we really appreciate it. And the Christies, Bob & Mildred. We really need to let these people know how much it means to the rest of us that that take so much time to keep us going. And of course the men that serve as officers. Howard Hensleigh. Thank goodness for men like him that step forward and agree to help.
AIR BORNE ALL THE WAY!
(received March 2004)