Airbase Arizona - Commemorative Air Force

WWII Operation Market Garden

Operation Market Garden, which included the Battle for Arnhem, Holland in September 1944, was the largest airborne battle in history. It was also the only real attempt by the Allies to use airborne forces in a strategic role in Europe. It was a massive engagement, with 21 Allied Army groups under British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery. It involved thousands of aircraft and armored vehicles and hundreds of thousands of troops. It was the only major Allied defeat to the Northwest European campaign.
Even though Field Marshal Montgomery “ended” Operation Market Garden in ten days, thousands of Allied troops were killed and thousands more were left behind surrounded by the enemy. Montgomery continued to move troops and give orders until the end of October when much of the German army were called away to fight on other fronts.

21-year-old PFC James A. Atherton was with the 101st Airborne, 327th Glider Infantry dropped near Eindhoven on September 17th, 1944. After weeks of battles, he was killed in action by a sniper in Hein, Holland on October 7th, 1944. The 101st and British airborne forces in that area were surrounded by German troops for weeks and faced major losses.

The following is PFC Atherton’s story as told by his niece, Terri Shallcross Teasdale with Mary Atherton Shallcross.

Growing up I remember a picture of a handsome young soldier that hung on our living room wall alongside a purple ribbon with a heart on it and a patch that said “Airborne” with an eagle on it. I knew the soldier in the picture was my uncle whom I would never meet.

Mom loved to tell me stories about her brother. She said he was a kind, obedient child with a remarkable sense of humor. She would talk about his infectious smile and his practical jokes. It made me happy when mom would tell me that I had his eyes. Dad always referred to him as a hero. My oldest brother was named after him. Memorial Day, Independence Day and Veterans Day were always very important days for our family.

On Sunday, December 7th, 1941, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii was attacked by Japan. The next morning, 18-year-old Jim went with his older brother, George, and his sister’s beau, John, to a military recruiting office to enlist. They waited in line with thousands of young men for hours to be processed. Jim was told that because he was not yet nineteen that he would have to have a parents’ permission to enlist. His mother refused to sign for his enlistment explaining that he was needed at home. Disappointed, he did not argue, but told his mother that he would be nineteen in a few months and that he would surely be drafted. On July 15th, 1042, Jim celebrated his nineteenth birthday. His draft notice arrived within days. He was so proud to be called to serve his country. 19-year-old Jim was in the Army now!

Jim was an exceptional soldier who was assigned to the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division and he volunteered for the very dangerous 327th Glider Infantry Regiment.
The last time mom saw her younger brother was in March of 1943 when he said “Goodbye. Pray for me. I love you sis.” She replied, “I love you too, Jim.” This would be the last time anyone in their family would see him alive.

After bravely landing via glider on Utah Beach on D-Day, and fighting to liberate France in the Battle of Carentan, Jim was briefly sent back to England to celebrate his 21st birthday training for his next assignment. Britain’s Field Marshal Montgomery was working on a plan to take the five bridges between Holland and Germany as an invasion point for the Allied Troops.

September 17, 1944: The 101st Airborne 327th Glider Infantry Regiment landed in Eindhoven, Holland. PFC James Atherton was with the first wave of gliders that went in that day.

October 7, 1944: In the village of Hien, just North of Nijmegen and West of Arnhem, 21-year-old PFC James Atherton was shot by a sniper from the 2nd Panzer Division of the German Nazi Army. He had survived D-Day on Utah Beach followed by weeks of battle in France and Holland, but he would not survive this day. PFC Atherton’s body was buried in Molenhoek Cemetery in Holland with other members of the 101st Airborne Division that were killed in the area.

October 29th, 1944: 18-year-old Joan Atherton answered a knock at the door of their home in Chicago. It was a United States Army Representative with a telegram in hand. Joan knew It could not be good news. Joan’s mother, her sister Mary and George’s wife, Margaret, were out shopping. Joan read the telegram and didn’t know how she would be able to relay its contents to her sister and mother when they got home. Joan quietly told Mary that she must speak to her in their bedroom. They sat down on the bed. A shaken and tearful Joan handed her older sister the telegram.

Mom said that the only words she remembers seeing were “KILLED IN ACTION.” The tears came so quickly that she could not read anything else. She knew that it could not be her fiancé, John, whose family would have received the telegram, or her older brother George, whose wife would have been notified. It had to be Jim.

In an instant, Mary realized that her little brother and best friend would not be coming home. In shock and sorry, Joan and Mary took each other’s hand and went into the living room to tell their mother about their great loss. Their father was notified by telephone. Their older brother, George, was notified by the Red Cross. His request for leave to attend Jim’s memorial service was denied.

Mary notified her fiancé by letter which arrived on his ship in the Pacific Ocean on November 8th, 1944. Mary recalls that for weeks she had nightmares which contained only the words “KILLED IN ACTION.”

My siblings and I have always loved our Uncle Jim. My mom has kept him alive for us through pictures and memories. When I read his letters with the corny humor I laugh. When I think about his precious life that was cut short and the way he died I cry. He is truly a War Hero whose sacrifice cannot be described in words alone. I made a promise to my mother several years ago. I promised her that I would help keep the memory of her brother alive. My children have known their Great Uncle Jim all their lives. They have read his wartime letters. They know the history of Operation Market Garden and they all have a copy of the film “A Bridge Too Far.” In July of 2000, in honor of mom’s 80th birthday, my siblings and I had Uncle Jim’s name placed in the WWII registry of remembrance in Washington, D.C.

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