Jim Gavin made a name for himself as a commander of Airborne troops in Europe during the Second World War. The young boy who grew up in Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania, the adopted son of Martin and Mary Gavin, went on to a remarkable career in the United States Army.
In December 1943, Gavin was fresh off two major successes with his vaunted 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment in Sicily and in Italy. His paratroopers gained renown for their skill and courage under fire.
In a letter he penned to his friend Reggie Fincato, Mount Carmel’s Borough Secretary, Gavin discusses how teachers in his hometown shaped his future career in the Army and his pride in the Mount Carmel soldiers fighting by his side in the 505th. The letter was published in the February 3, 1944 edition of the Mount Carmel Item.
“Your letter of November 11 just caught up with me. I was certainly glad to hear from you and to hear something of Mount Carmel and of those people whom I have thought a great deal of for many years.
While I am appreciative of what praise my promotion may have brought me, I will always feel that my career in the Army has been made possible by the schools of Mount Carmel and the people of Mount Carmel, who all helped with my ‘bringing-up.’
I always think or, and always will remember, the teachers I had in the grade schools and their patience with me and tolerance of my propensity of making a hell of a mess of everything I got my hands on.
I particularly remember Miss Howard, Miss Butts and Miss Dietrich. I suppose they have all long since quit teaching. They were good people…
I have a number of Mount Carmel boys in the parachute troops. They are a great bunch, best scrappers in this or any other army.
The Krauts give them lot of elbow room now. Sicily threw a scare into them, and Italy convinced them that American paratroopers are good people to stay the hell away from. I’ll send along a snapshot or something as soon as I can get my hands on one, maybe in a week or so.
Best of luck to you and family, especially the newest addition.”
In 1944, Gavin parachuted into Normandy with his regiment on D-Day, further boosting his reputation as a fighting general. Later that year, he was given command of the entire 82nd Airborne Division.
He came home to Mount Carmel at war’s end as a hero – and his notable career as a military officer and public official was far from over.
(Photograph: General James Gavin in 1944 or 1945, after receiving promotion to major general – US Army)