Ed Girroir, U.S. Army Paratrooper and Firefighter ~ HERO IN OUR MIDST, VALLEY PATRIOT OF THE MONTH

By: John Cuddy 6-23

HAVERHILL – During World War II, Haverhill’s Ed Girroir enlisted in the US Army after Pearl Harbor, with most of his friends doing the same. He served as a Paratrooper with the US Army, in the European Theatre. He was on Active duty, from 1944 to 1946, assigned to the 517th Airborne Parachute Regimental Combat Team (PRCT).

While serving in the 517th, Ed and his brother Soldiers were required to qualify as “expert” with their individually issued weapon, “sharpshooter” with another infantry table of allowance (TAO) weapon, and “marksman” with all crew-served weapons assigned to his platoon’s TAO. The 517th troopers were the first paratroopers to wear the steel combat helmet in jump training; until these men jumped in US Army issued steel helmets, a modified football helmet had been used during jump training. Under the command of Colonel (later Major General) Louis Walsh Jr, a Veteran of early campaigns in the Pacific, physical conditioning was paramount within the unit.

Colonel Walsh’s emphasis on fitness saved many men’s lives, as the unit was part of some of the bloodiest fighting in Europe. The 517th participating in the campaigns in Italy, Operation Dragoon, which included a combat jump on August 15th, 1944, at 3am. Later they fought in the Belgian towns of Soy, Sur-Les-Hys, Hotton, and Manhay, trying to turn the Germans back at the Battle of the Bulge. Following the Battle of the Bulge, the 517th PIR was assigned to the 13th Airborne Division, to take part in Operation Varsity, the airborne crossing of the Rhine River.

However, prior to the operation, the 13th’s participation in the attack was called off. The 517th, then attached to the 17th Airborne Division, was slated to take part in Operation Coronet, the airborne invasion of the Japanese Home Islands, which was also called off after V-J Day.

It is easy to see why they are called the Greatest Generation! From the unit’s own website, “the 517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team accumulated over 150 combat days during five campaigns on battlefields in Italy, France, Belgium and Germany”.
The team’s casualty rate was 81.9 percent. The Team suffered 1,576 wounded in action casualties and had 247 men killed in action. Not included in these figures are injuries from accidents, the cold, or injury caused by other harsh field conditions.

One of the men in Ed’s unit, PFC Melvin E. Biddle B/1/517th PIR was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for heroic actions during the Soy-Hotton engagement. Private Biddle learned of earning the award while reading a newspaper, Stars and Stripes, on a train.

On February 15, 1945, elements of the PRCT were assigned to the 13th Airborne Division. The 13th was deactivated in February of 1946.

In addition to the one Medal of Honor, troopers of the 517th PRCT earned, Six Distinguished Service Crosses, 131 Silver Stars, 631 Bronze Stars, 1,576 Purple Hearts, five Legion of Merits, four Soldiers Medals, (awarded for lifesaving at great personal risk) two Air Medals and seventeen soldiers were awarded the French Croix de Guerre. For their team’s service during the Battle of the Bulge, retaking lost Allied territory in Belgium, the unit earned the Presidential Unit Citation.

After World War II, Ed became a Firefighter serving the City of Haverhill, where he retired after more than 30 years of service to the city.

Ed is an avid sports fan, following the Boston teams and local American Legion Baseball. He has driven his WWII Jeep, while towing a cannon, to many Veterans’ ceremonies, parades, and even burials. Every Memorial Day weekend, he and other Legion members, drive around in the Jeep to area cemeteries to ensure American flags are on every Veteran’s grave. These heroes place an American Flag on the grave of any Veteran that does not have one.

Ed participates, in many American Legion events, and is still very active in other Veterans organizations such as the American Veterans (Amvets) and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). He is a proud retired Massachusetts Fire Fighter.

Ed first joined the West Newbury American Legion Post 240, he later transferred to Haverhill’s American Legion Post 4, he has served over fifty years in the American Legion, and even served as Post Commander. He is ninety-four years young and is currently serving as Post Historian for Post 4 Haverhill. Ed is enjoying a well-deserved retirement from the Haverhill Fire Department with his wife, two sons, one daughter, and a well-loved extended family.

The Valley Patriot thanks Haverhill Veterans Dave DiCeglie and Chris Manning, Chris is the current Commander of American Legion Post 4 in Haverhill, Massachusetts, for doing Ed’s interview and helping to write this article. Chris invites all Veterans, of all branches, from all eras, to stop by Post 4 and join! Please bring a photocopy of your DD 214, please do not bring the original document.

All the Merrimack Valley’s American Legion Posts ask all World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War Veterans, to call (603) 518-5368 and sign up for an Honor Flight to the Memorials in Washington DC! Veterans of all eras are asked to go the American Legion’s Web site www.legion.org, and join the American Legion, our mission is working with Congress, Veterans, and the Community, preserving our Veteran’s Benefits for future generations and serving all Veterans and their families.

John Cuddy served in the US Navy’s Construction Battalions (also known as the Seabees) after retiring from the US Navy; he earned a bachelor’s in history and a master’s in economics from the University of Massachusetts on the Lowell Campus. He has been employed in Logistics at FedEx for the last 26 years. If you know a World War II, Korean War, or Vietnam War Veteran who would like their story told, please email him at John.Cuddy@Yahoo.com ◊