Captain Jack E. Foley - United States Army
101st Airborne Division - 506th Easy Company
Jack E. Foley was born August 18,
1922 to Randall and Viola Foley. His mother was played the piano and was
an accompanist in one of Pittsburgh's silent movie theatres. His father
originally worked for U.s. Steel, then moved on to a career as a PPG
salesman. The Foley family, including brothers Jim and Dick, lived in
Brookline at 1109 Woodbourne Avenue.
Foley was a senior at South Hills
High School in 1939 when Hitler's Blitzkrieg swept across Poland and
plunged Europe into war. In his French class, it was Jack's responsibility
to provide daily updates to his classmates on the German advances, from
the battles in Poland through to the campaign in France. His knowledge
of the French language would come in handy a few years later.
Foley graduated from South Hills High
in 1940, then enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh. He was working toward
a degree in political science and economics. During the 1942-43 season he
earned a varsity letter as a manager for the university's Pitt Panther
"On the 7th of December 1941," Foley
recalled, "that Sunday I was with my fraternity initiating our new pledge class.
I was in my second year at University of Pittsburgh. On May 18, 1942, I
enlisted in the Army Reserve. I wanted to graduate first and then go in the
Army. I also attended summer classes, so by January 1943 was considered
a Senior and could have graduated in September."
After careful consideration, Jack and
nineteen other members of his fraternity decided that they could not wait.
All members of Pitt's ROTC program, the twenty cadets left school and were
commissioned into military service on June 29, 1943. He quickly attained the
rank of Corporal and became eligible for Officer Candidate School.
On November 19, 1943, Jack graduated
with the rank of Second Lieutenant. His first assignment was with the Coastal
Artillery Corps, in charge of a 1918 three inch gun defending a part of Puget
Sound at Fort Worden in the State of Washington. Then, in May 1944 he was
transferred to Texas, where his unit was converted to Field Artillery. It was
at this time that Lieutenant Jack Foley decided to become a
"I didn't want to go to Europe as a
green second lieutenant. I wanted to do something special," Jack explained.
"The paratroopers were daring, unique. They were tough. They wore boots. That
was where I wanted to be."
In October 1944, he graduated with his
jump wings and was shipped off to Holland as a replacement officer, where in
December 1944 he joined Company E of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment,
101st Airborne Division. Easy Company was made famous by Stephen Ambrose's
1992 book "Band of Brothers" and the HBO mini-series series which first aired
Jack and the other replacement paratroopers
ironically made the journey to Holland by truck, and their assignment to the
various divisions done with a dash of simplicity.
"I can tell you about my only nighttime
combat jump. It was off of the tailgate of a platoon truck, and it was an
altitude of about four feet," Foley recalled. As for their division of record,
"It was done very scientifically. They went right down the line and said,
`You're in the 17th, you're in the 82nd, and you're in the 101st division'
to each one of us."
After skirmishes in Holland, Company E moved
into France, where Lieutenant Foley fell ill and was taken in by a French family. He
never forgot their kindness.
After recovering, Foley rejoined the
unit in Mourmelon le Grande. They celebrated Thanksgiving 1944 in an old German
Mess Hall, then settled in with the rest of the company to await replacements,
equipment and supplies.
Then, on November 16, 1944, the Germans
launched their unexpected and fierce counterattack against the Allied front in
the Ardennes Forest. This large-scale Axis offensive became known as the Battle
of the Bulge.
"On Monday the 18nd of December 1944, at
noon, we loaded up on trucks and by late afternoon we left Mourmelon in the
direction of Bastogne," Jack remembers. "After hours of traveling packed together
very tightly, we jumped off those trucks and the next morning, the 19th of December
1944, we marched through Bastogne and straight to Jacks Woods (Bois Jacques) where
we took a defensive position."
The American defenders held the line
for several days against frequent and determined German attacks. The weather was
bitterly cold and the snow was deep. Supplies were rationed and after a
few days of staunch resistance, the American situation became desperate.
Despite the hardships and the unrelenting
German pressure, Easy Company held their positions, as did the rest of the
besieged American defenders holding the line around Bastogne.
Eventually, General George S. Patton and
units of his Third Army broke through the German lines to end the siege. As the
American position improved, the tide of battle turned and the Allies began to
push back against the enemy.
Foley was involved in the assault on the
town of Foy, north of Bastogne, as leader of first platoon. The town
was heavily defended and the fighting was fierce. While Lieutenant Foley was
advancing along with his men, they came across a barbed wire fence and surrounded
a house where they'd seen three German officers run and hide.
Foley kicked in the door and ordered them to
come out. When they refused, he threw in a hand grenade. After the explosion the
German officers emerged, bleeding and shaken. As Lieutenant Foley began questioning
the captives, two of them reached into their coats for guns while the third yelled,
"Dummkopf!" One of Foley's men cut the Germans down with a submachine gun.
"We had taken no prisoners," Foley later
recalled, "but we did bring back the concealed pistols."
A painting depicting soldiers of 506th
Easy Company in the liberated town of Foy.
Later on during the action at Foy, while
advancing on another enemy position, snipers concealed in a hay-stack shot two
of Foley's men. Jack himself was shot right through his boot. His remaining men
launched some grenades on the hay-stack, eliminating the German snipers positioned
there. Foley and his men then continued on to secure their objective. Afterwards,
Jack was sent to an aid station, then to a base hospital to recover.
After the battle of Foy, Company E was
relieved and sent southward to the town of Hagenau, near the German border. Foley
rejoined the unit in February 1945. During the action at Hagenau, there was
frequent enemy shelling, and mortar rounds were coming in all day and night.
While on patrol, Lieutenant Foley was again wounded, this time in the wrist by
After Hagenau, Lieutenant Foley and Easy
Company entered Germany, where they came across the Nazi concentration camp at
Dachau. Foley and his platoon entered the camp, where they witnessed first-hand
the morbid atrocities of the Holocaust. These images haunted Jack for the rest
of his life.
"We weren't the first ones on the scene,
but it was the sorriest thing I ever saw," Foley said of the camp, located about
sixty miles west of Munich. "The people were emaciated. There were three bins:
one bin had nothing but human hair, one had spectacles and one had nothing but
As the war neared its conclusion,
Lieutenant Foley was present when Easy Company captured Adolf Hitler's Eagle's
Nest mountain retreat in Berchtesgaden. When the war ended, the company
remained in Berchtesgaden on occupation duty, then was transfered to Zell Um
Zee in Austria.
Foley, like many veterans, always favored
the amusing war stories. One such story occured after President Franklin Delano
Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945. General Dwight Eisenhower ordered unit commanders
to hold a short memorial service two days later. Lieutenant Foley, who never cared
for President Roosevelt, gathered his platoon and pulled a St. Joseph missal from
his pack. He read a few passages to his troops and later joked that he was "the
only man who ever buried (Episcopalian) Franklin D. as a Catholic."
Lt. McCutcheon and Capt. Jack Foley
in Austria, 1945.
Foley returned to the United States
on January 3, 1946 and marched with his men in a spectacular parade in New
York City on January 12. He came home on leave for thirty days, then returned
to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where he was promoted to Captain and transfered
to the 1st Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division.
Captain Jack Foley, a decorated WWII
veteran and Bronze Star recipient, was discharged from the service on April 16,
1946. He returned to his home in Brookline and went back to the University of
Pittsburgh to finish his degree. He graduated in September 1946.
After college, Jack Foley began a
career at ALCOA, the Aluminum Company of America, based in Pittsburgh. He was
employed in advertising and writing in-house newsletters for the Aluminum
Cooking Utensil Company in New Kensington, the Cutco Company in Olean, N.Y.,
the ALCOA Wrap Company in New Kensington, and finally the ALCOA headquarters
Jack took part in a memorable ALCOA ad
campaign in the early 1970s in which the company trumpeted the "improbable" uses
of its wide range of aluminum products. These included the first aluminum tennis
racket and an aluminum bat that Foley himself presented to Roberto Clemente at
Three Rivers Stadium.
Jack Foley retired in 1982 to his home
in the Crescent Hills section of Penn Hills, where he and his wife Mary Lou had
lived most of their adult life. Jack and Mary Lou raised five children: Karen,
Barbara, John, David, and Nancy.
Jack Foley and his screaming
eagle in 2004.
Away from work, Jack Foley enjoyed the
theatre, travel and tennis. He joined his wartime comrades on four trips back
to Europe. Jack had a particular fondness for the Pitt basketball
Foley was a regular attendee at Easy
Company reunions, and enjoyed the lasting camaraderie that existed between
himself and his fellow paratroopers. His wartime experiences did, however,
have a haunting effect. He often grew depressed at Christmas time because of
the memories of December 1944 in Bastogne, when the German panzers and
artillery relentlessly pounded away at the U.S. forces holed up in their frozen
foxholes. Memories of the inhumanity of Dachau also cast an eerie shadow on
this normally upbeat man.
Medals awarded to Captain Jack Foley
include the Bronze Star.
In 1992, renowned author Stephen
Ambrose published his book "Band of Brothers, E Company, 506th Regiment,
101st Airborne: From Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest." During the course
of his research, Ambrose interviewed Captain Foley. Several of Jack's
remembrances are documented within the pages of the book.
Then, in 2001, the HBO Mini-Series
"Band of Brothers," produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, received
wide-spread acclaim and turned many of the Easy Company soldiers into
Jack Foley's character is featured briefly
in the final four episodes of "Band of Brothers." He is played by British actor
Jamie Bamber. His character is perhaps most visible in the episode "The
Breaking Point," where he and Sergeant John Martin lead soldiers around
Foy after Lieutenant Norman Dyke freezes in terror behind a haystack.
Captain Jack Foley of Brookline, the
decorated veteran of World War II and member of the now-legendary
Easy Company Band of Brothers, passed away on September 14, 2009.
* Article pieced together
from various sources by Clint Burton - March 13, 2014 *
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