Stephen DeVito on Fighting with the Filthy Thirteen

We are pleased to announce that Fighting with the Filthy Thirteen: The World War II Story of Jack Womer – Ranger and Paratrooper is now available from Casemate Publishers!

In 2004 the world was first introduced to The Filthy Thirteen, a book describing the most notorious squad of fighting men in the 101st Airborne Division (and the inspiration for the movie “The Dirty Dozen”).  In this long awaited work one of the squad’s integral members – Jack Womer – reveals his own inside account of fighting as a spearhead of the Screaming Eagles in Normandy, Market Garden, and the Battle of the Bulge.

To learn more about this work, we talked with author Stephen DeVito about writing this book and learning from Jack.

How much research did you do for the book?

Jack Womer – August 1943

I did a tremendous amount of research. I interviewed Jack Womer extensively. I’d say at least 50 hours of interviews with just him alone. I pressed him constantly for information. I also interviewed men that served in the army with him. I personally read and studied all of Jack’s wartime letters, well over three hundred of them. The content of these letters, as well as the dates they were written and postmarked, and the officers who approved them were of tremendous value in developing this book. They provided a lot of little bits of information that served as unequivocal evidence that undermine statements made in previously published works. I also contacted authors of other books that deal with the history of the units that Jack served in. These authors provided useful information as well. I spent a lot of time in several military libraries, including the U.S. National Archives. I can’t begin to even estimate how many hours I spent researching the subject matter of my book.

Why did you decide to write this book?

Compared to other veterans of World War II, Jack Womer’s story is unique in that, unlike most of the millions of young American men who were drafted into military service during World War II, Jack entered military service in April of 1941 ─  months before the United States entered the war.  Jack was drafted into the 29th Infantry Division, and sent to Europe in October of 1942.  Jack volunteered for the 29th Ranger Battalion, a new and elite Commando unit, and was among the relatively few men who met the extensive and rigorous requirements for becoming a Ranger.

After the 29th Rangers disbanded in October, 1943, Jack Womer volunteered to become a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne Division.  His Commando training made him highly qualified to become a paratrooper, and Womer completed all of his paratrooper training and qualification jumps in just ten days.  In January of 1944 Womer was assigned to the demolitions section known famously and infamously as the “Filthy Thirteen” of the 101st Airborne Division’s 506th Parachute Infantry Regimental Headquarters Company.  It was with the Filthy Thirteen that Jack participated in the Invasion of Normandy (D-Day), the Battle for Holland, and the Battle of the Bulge. His leadership skills and ability to think tactically and strategically made him the perfect choice for buck sergeant of the Filthy Thirteen, a position which he maintained from December, 1944 until the end of the war.

Jack with Members of the 29th Ranger Battalion

Aside from a few anecdotes of Jack that have appeared in a few places, such as the book “The Filthy Thirteen” (by Richard Killblane and Jake McNiece), in some of the writings of World War II historians Mark Bando and Jonathan Gawne, and on some internet web pages, most of Jack’s World War II experiences have never been written.  I strongly encouraged Jack to preserve his memories of the war in the form of a book. I even offered to help him find an author to assist him in writing his war memoirs.

After considerable coaxing, he agreed, but under the condition that I write his memoirs for him!  I tried to wiggle out of it by saying that while I’ve authored a couple of highly specialized scientific books and a number of articles published in scientific journals, I’m only a student of World War II history, and have no credentials as a writer of it, and that he’d probably be better off working with someone who did.  He didn’t go for my idea, and I knew that the only way his war memories would be penned is if I did it for him, lest they’d inevitably be lost forever.  So I agreed to write Jack Womer’s memoirs of World War II. That’s how I got roped into it.

What do you like most about your book? Why should we read it?

This is a book written by a “baby-boomer” for the “baby-boomer” generation.  Many of the sons, daughters, grandchildren and other descendants of American soldiers who served in the European Theater during World War II  should be interested in this book, as it is an insightful social history and personal drama that they can relate to in regard to their own relative who lived through the Great Depression of the 1930s and served during the war. The story is profound – Jack Womer an aging World War II veteran as a proxy for his generation (often referred to as the “Greatest Generation”), telling his story to the writer (me), who is a proxy for his generation (the “Baby Boomer” generation) and who experiences the story first hand. As Jack’s story unfolds the reader will observe how the war has changed Jack, and men like him. The changes are profound, yet subtle and (as with many other veterans of World War II) understated, if not submerged.

There is much interest in the activities of the 101st Airborne Division during World War II, particularly those of the Division’s 506thParachute Infantry Regiment.  This is evident by the many popular books (e.g., Band of Brothers, Vanguard of the Crusade, The Filthy Thirteen) that cover the World War II activities of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment or subunits therein that have been published within the past two decades.

Jack with the 175th Regiment in Newport News

Fighting With The Filthy Thirteen: The World War II Story of Jack Womer  is a book about Jack Womer, a well known soldier of World War II who served in the section of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regimental Headquarters Company’s demolitions platoon known more commonly as the “Filthy Thirteen”.   Fighting With The Filthy Thirteen not only provides a lot of details about Jack Womer that are not covered in the Filthy Thirteen book or elsewhere, but also provides additional, previously unpublished details about the activities of the Filthy Thirteen and about some of the men that served in the Filthy Thirteen and who are also well known. People who have an interest in the activities of the 101st Airborne Division’s 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment and the men who served in this regiment will be interested in the book Fighting With The Filthy Thirteen  Anyone who has read the book The Filthy Thirteen (published by Casemate Publishers) will almost certainly want to read Fighting With The Filthy Thirteen  as it is a first-person narrative of Jack Womer, one of the main subjects in the Filthy Thirteen book and one of the long-time members of the Filthy Thirteen.

For example, a chapter on the last patrol of the Filthy Thirteen as a unit is provided in Fighting With The Filthy Thirteen. This last patrol took place on May 8, 1945, the day after the War in Europe officially ended, and involved extensive combat.  Additional details about Filthy Thirteeners James Leech, James Green both of whom were taken prisoner in June of 1944 during the Normandy Invasion, and John Hale, who was killed in France in June 1944, and John Hale’s family are provided.  These details were obtained from letters written during World War II by the mothers of James Leech, James Green and John Hale to the mother of Jack Womer. A chapter that provides specific details on how Corporal Joseph Oleskiewicz (another Filthy Thirteener) was killed is also provided.  These and other previously unpublished details that are provided in Fighting With The Filthy Thirteen serve to compliment the book The Filthy Thirteen, and the many people who are interested in the Filthy Thirteen would be interested in knowing these details.

In addition to fans of the 101st Airborne Division, there are many individuals who are interested in the stateside and European Theater activities of the 29th Infantry Division during World War II. This interest is due to the pivotal role the 29th Infantry Division had in helping the Allied forces achieve victory in Europe during World War II.  Jack Womer served in the 29th Infantry Division from April of 1941 until December of 1943.

The book Fighting With The Filthy Thirteen provides details about the stateside activities and European Theater activities of the 29th Infantry Division during this period that do not appear in other published materials.  These details were obtained primarily from letters that Jack Womer wrote to his parents and others, and also from unpublished documents and other materials in the library of the National Guard Association Headquarters, located in Washington DC.

For example, a complete original playbill of the 29th Infantry Division’s production of the military musical revue “Snap it Up Again” was discovered in one of Jack’s wartime letters.  This playbill contains the names of the individuals in the 29th Infantry Division who participated in the production, and other details on this production.  Very little published information is available on this 29th Infantry Division’s World War II production of “Snap It Up Again”.

Fighting With The Filthy Thirteen provides many unpublished details about the 29th Ranger Battalion, an elite subunit within the 29th Infantry Division in which Jack Womer, who was among the few men chosen for the unit, served from the time the 29th Ranger Battalion was established in November of 1942 until it was mustered out of service in October of 1943.  These details were obtained primarily from unpublished documents found in libraries and also from interviews with men who served in the 29th Ranger Battalion with Jack Womer.

*Stephen DeVito will be at the Mid Atlantic Air Museum’s World War II Weekend on Saturday June 2nd with Casemate.  Make sure to visit us at our table in the hangar!*


4 thoughts on “Stephen DeVito on Fighting with the Filthy Thirteen

  1. Very much looking forward to reading “Fighting.” Many thanks to Mr. Womer and Mr. DeVito for helping the war memories and stories live on.

  2. Bravo, for writing a wonderful account of another brave soldier from” America’s Greatest Generation” whose selflessness will never be forgotten. A must read for all!!

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