Wurst, a rifleman, spent the most of World War II in the European Theater of Operations as a squad leader or platoon sergeant in Company F, 505. He made three of the four regimental combat jumps, dropping into Italy, Normandy, and Holland. Highlights include his baptism of fire in Italy during the Battle of Arnone; the jump on D-Day and the liberation of Ste. Me're Eglise (for which he was awarded a Purple Heart); a grueling month of combat in the hedgerows of Normandy (a second Purple Heart); the ferocious battle with the SS for the highway bridge at Nijmegen, Holland (Silver Star); and survival in the Ardennes, where he found himself as point man on his twentieth birthday, in a long, bitter march toward the shoulder of the Bulge.
Wurst's narrative, set against a carefully researched historical background, offers a unique view of the heat of battle as experienced by a noncommissioned officer in the 82nd Airborne Division. Initial chapters chronicle his training before mobilization, when he lied about his age (15) to the National Guard in Erie, Pennsylvania, and his later experience in a heavy weapons company of the 112th Infantry Regiment, 28th Infantry Division. In 1941, Wurst was on a truck returning from First Army maneuvers in the Carolinas to Indiantown Gap Military Reservation when he heard the news of the attack at Pearl Harbor. He recounts life at Camps Livingston and Beauregard in Louisiana, and at the newly formed Parachute School at Fort Benning, Georgia, where he was stationed in the infamous "Frying Pan" area.
Descending from the Clouds portrays the passage from innocence to experience. Wurst begins as a 135-pound kid marching down his hometown streets in the National Guard, wearing the remnants of a World War I uniform and pulling by hand a water-cooled .30-caliber machine-gun mounted on a wooden cart. Five years later, he is a hardened platoon sergeant, leading his troopers through the frozen killing fields of "Death Valley" in Germany's Huertgen Forest.
His story is the story of the coming of age of the American military: fewer than twenty men per company who started with the 505 in the Frying Pan returned home.
"... gives a good sense of the confusion of airborne operations and close combat...makes an excellent book for company level leader development on the subjects of discipline, training, and combat leadership."Army History, Winter 2010
Best WW2 infantry tactics book you'll ever read!
By Craig A. Williams
- September 19, 2005
I really enjoyed this book. I've read dozens and dozens of books about World War Two. What distinguishes Descending from the Clouds from most of the others is the feeling and passion contained in the pages. Col. Wurst recounts not only what he saw, heard, and felt, but also the impression it left on him for the rest of his life. When I finished reading this book I took some time to reflect on what I had read. I came away thankful for the sacrifices men and women like Col. Wurst have made in the history of our nation that allow me to live free and relatively safe.
Honestly, this book is the best first person account of infantry tactics relating to World War Two that I've ever read. I highly recommend it.
A Must Read
By Starlyn Jorgensen
- August 5, 2005
Like Spencer Wurst, my late father was a paratrooper in the famed 82nd Airborne Division during World War II. He was also career Army, and his postings took us around the world. As a very young girl, I know that he brought me to the beaches at Normandy. A few years later, I stood by his side as he pointed out the field in Holland where he had landed in September 1944. My father was very proud of his service with the 82nd, and I was raised knowing the Division's history. However, my father never really said anything specific about his own war experience. Sadly, my father died before I realized that perhaps he was just waiting for me to ask.
Fifteen years after his death, I returned to that field in Holland, traveling with my father's wartime "foxhole buddy" who did his best to tell me about their war. As an historian in the more than ten years since, I have sought out World War II veterans and encouraged them to tell their stories; and in so doing, I have come to realize why... read more
An outstanding WWII memoir
By Paul W. Leicht "PWL"
- March 29, 2005
Having recently returned from Iraq, I have been digging around for wartime memoirs, especially WWII since I enjoy reading about this period in American history. Mr. Wurst's narrative is a moving account of an American airborne soldier and his trials and experiences during the 82nd Airborne's campaign through Europe. From the first sentence, I was hooked. Wurst's has a powerful way of reconstructing his personal combat memories. I highly recommend this title.