Guy Whidden, a Frederick County resident and World War II veteran who parachuted into Normandy on D-Day in 1944, died Monday at the age of 99, his family announced.
“A man who would do anything for anyone, he will always be remembered as being the most gracious person we have ever met,” read a Facebook post from Whidden’s family, shared to a community page for him.
Born in June 1923 near Philadelphia, Whidden graduated high school just a few months before the Pearl Harbor attacks in 1941. He enlisted in the Army in February 1942.
At first, he was assigned to a mapmaking team at Fort Jackson in South Carolina. The experience was interesting, he told an interviewer with the American Veterans Center for a 2017 video, but he wasn’t satisfied for long.
“After a short time,” Whidden said in the interview, “I wanted some action.”
So when he saw a poster encouraging recruits to sign up for paratrooper training, he obliged.
By September 1942, Whidden was in jump school at Fort Benning in Georgia. He trained for more than a year before he saw his first action — the June 6, 1944, Allied invasion of Normandy, France.
At the time, Whidden was 20 years old.
Later in life, he would recount the story of that day and the ensuing operations many times: to Frederick News-Post reporters, to History Channel documentarians, in a book he authored and at events across the world.
“One of the most outstanding things was that he told his story,” said Patricia Redmond, a local author who met Whidden during an interview about his time in the war. The two became good friends.
Whidden shared openly his experiences in combat, said Redmond, who last year published a book called “Words from the Heart: When America’s Veterans Speak.” It included Whidden’s recollections.
“It was difficult for him, but he knew it was important. And he did it anyway,” said Joe Conway, a Carroll County resident and close friend of Whidden’s. “I think, for years, he tucked it away like most of the guys did. And then in his final years, he was able to talk about it and start sharing some of his experiences.”
Whidden served in the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division.
Around 1 a.m. on D-Day, Whidden jumped from his plane just outside the town of Sainte-Mère-Église, France. The plane was just 300 feet off the ground — meaning the parachute didn’t have much time to slow the paratroopers down — and Whidden knew he would hit the ground hard.
On his way down, Whidden felt something hit his chest, he recalled in a 2019 interview with The History Channel.
He reached his hand up to inspect the damage and pulled out his prayer book. A piece of metal from a mortar shell was lodged in the cover.
“Well, that’s divine intervention,” Whidden said in the interview. “You’ve gotta think, hey, somebody’s looking after me for some reason.”
Whidden fought in the Normandy campaign until July 5, 1944, when the 101st returned to England.
A few months later, in September, the division returned to battle. Whidden found himself tangled up in the cords of his parachute after jumping into Holland during Operation Market Garden, he recalled in the American Veterans Center interview.
He was confused when he saw two knife-wielding men on bicycles coming toward him. It turned out they were members of the Dutch resistance. They cut him free and helped him to his feet.
“Go get ’em, soldier!” they called.
Later, Whidden sought cover in a ditch, where he was tackled and pinned to the ground by a German soldier.
The German pointed a Luger pistol at Whidden’s forehead. Whidden struggled for his trench knife, he recalled, but couldn’t reach it.
They stared at each other for a few seconds, then the German surrendered the pistol to Whidden. He still isn’t sure why. The two left the trench together.
Whidden kept the Luger as a souvenir.
He would go on to be severely wounded by a blast that killed three of his closest friends. Some of his friends died in Whidden’s arms, Conway said.
But Whidden avoided discussing the most graphic details of his service.
“He never told anything horrible,” Conway said. “He kept those details to himself. But reading between the lines, you could tell there was significant scars.”
Whidden left Holland with a compound fracture in his leg. Doctors told Whidden they would need to amputate it, but Whidden convinced them to save it.
“He knew he could walk again,” Conway said.
Eventually, Whidden even took up long-distance running.
Whidden visited Europe multiple times after the war, traveling to Normandy on milestone D-Day anniversaries. He jumped out of a plane there for the 50th anniversary in 1994.
Conway and Redmond said they would remember their friend as a kind, humble man. He loved being around children, both said, and worked as a teacher after the war.
Conway’s son was 14 when he met Whidden. He told the older man he wanted to become a paratrooper, too — and he did.
Redmond would visit Whidden at his home — which was just five minutes from her own — and the pair would enjoy picnics in his backyard. Whidden was an “amazing conversationalist,” Redmond said.
He loved to dance, Redmond added. As recently as June, he was dancing from his wheelchair.
“He was looking forward to his 100th birthday,” Redmond said. “He said he was going to have a huge party, invite all his friends, and we were going to dance together and have a good time. And remember.”
In their Facebook post, Whidden’s family wrote that he was “a hero to many, and an overall amazing human being.”
“We know that all of you loved him,” the family wrote, “and we love you too.”
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