Brookline War Memorial
Jack E. Foley

Captain Jack E. Foley - United States Army
101st Airborne Division - 506th Easy Company
1943/1945

United States Army (1775-present)

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 basketball team.

"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."

Cpt. Jack Foley

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 paratrooper.

"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 in 2001.

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."

506th Infantry Regiment Coat of Arms    101st Airborne Insignia    506th Infantry Regiment Insignia

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."

Easy Company in Foy
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 shrapnel.

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 teeth."

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
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 in Pittsburgh.

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
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 program.

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 Capt. Jack Foley.
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 national heros.

Band of Brothers    Actor Jamie Bamber portrayed Lt. Jack Foley.

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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