What's New
Search Engine
Photo Gallery
Unit History
Unit Honors
Voices Of Past
F&F Association
How To Submit



The Harry Kennedy Story
(Or "Tunder" he Said, and
My Adrenaline Overflowed)

   This is a true story of a naive, brave, young man. My favorite story of WWII.
   Harry was born Hahns Kahn in Germany in 1924. His parents were Jewish. For reasons I do not know he was placed in an orphanage at a very young age. He was then adopted by German Jewish parents. Harry never knew his real parents. His adoptive father was a successful businessman owning some type of an importing business headquartered in Switzerland.
   Harry's early childhood was normal and happy until Hitler started his hate campaign against Jews. Jumping forward to Nov. 9, 1938, the date of Kristallnacht (Crystal Night): so called because Germans went on a rampage of ransacking Jewish homes, businesses, synagogues, and other Jewish institutions, filling the streets with the broken fine Jewish crystal and glassware. Other valuable possessions including books, art works, fine furniture, etc. were smashed and burned.
   Harry's father was astute enough to see the war on Judaism was increasing. He made plans to smuggle Harry out of Germany before it was too late. He had distance relatives in the United States who agreed to accept Harry. Through his contacts in the import business he arranged to smuggle Harry through Switzerland and Italy to a ship bound for New York. At this time Harry was about 15 years old. The father went to his headquarters in Switzerland and summoned his wife and Harry to join him. The father still had his papers to travel unrestricted. When Harry and his mother arrived at the Swiss border on the train, his mother was arrested by the German guards. Harry never saw her again. Presumably she was a victim of the holocaust. For some unknown reason Harry was allowed to continue. His father met him and had him transported to Italy, the ship and on to New York.
   Harry was met in New York by his new family and immediately placed in school. He had an agile mind and very quickly picked up the English language. He did have a heavy German accent. He successfully completed high school and joined the army. He volunteered for the paratroopers and joined us at Camp McCall, North Carolina in August 1942. Because of his command of the German language he was put in the Regimental intelligence section to act as an interpreter. When Harry joined the army, his name was changed from Hans Kahn to Harry Kennedy in case he should be captured by the enemy. His dog tags bore the name Kennedy.
   We were engrossed with Harry because of his background. He was shy and somewhat aloof. We tried very hard to make him feel accepted but were unsuccessful. He refused to go out with us to get drunk and chase girls like most GI's. We invited him many times but to no avail We thought that rather strange. Now that I have matured some, I see he wasn't all wrong.
   Harry did have a girlfriend he had met in New York. He called her “Teddy Bear.” They corresponded frequently. He adored her. He had no problem showing his love and discussing her attributes with us. All was well until about two months before we left to go overseas. Harry received a “dear John” letter. Teddy Bear had met someone else and thought it best that she and Harry break it off. Harry was devastated. I thought he was going into shock. He cried a lot. I became very dubious that he was suitable for combat. I felt uncomfortable depending on him in a hostile situation. After all, mature males don't come apart when jilted by a girlfriend. Soldiers don't cry, particularly hardened Paratroopers. I could be wrong, and as it turned out I was.
   In December, 1942, he seemed to accept the situation. You know the old adage: time heals all wounds. He still refused to go out with us in the big city for one last fling before we left the country.
   After a short stopover in North Ireland for two months, we moved to Nottingham, England. By then Harry was becoming a real American GI. He started going to the English Pubs with us and enjoying the companionship of the English girls. Except for his accent you would think he was a natural born American soldier.
   Moving forward to D-Day. The entire Regimental S-2 Section was in the same plane. We took off about 10:00 PM, June 5, flew several hours to rendezvous with other planes of the Regiment, and then headed to the continent. As we crossed the shoreline of Normandy we met intense anti-aircraft fire. Although we were flying low and slow, the Germans could not see us because of the low cloud cover. They were firing at the sound of the engines.

 The pilots could see the tracers coming up and had to fly around them to prevent being shot down. In maneuvering to avoid the antiaircraft fire the planes wandered off course and when we jumped, we missed the drop zone. Both the 101st and 82nd Divisions were strewn all over the Normandy peninsular. When I landed, about 2:30 AM, I was shaking so hard that I could not unbuckle my parachute harness. I cut myself loose with the knife strapped to my boot. It turned out that is the way most of the troopers freed themselves.   After freeing myself from the chute, I rearranged my gear to carry it comfortably, and started looking for other members in my plane. It was impossible to see or recognize anyone because of the darkness. There was no light to reflect off the cloud cover to allow any vision. I wandered around until I heard a noise. I gave the password which was “lightning”. The countersign was “thunder”. Thunder was selected because the Germans can't say “th”. The reply to my challenge came back a resounding “Tunder”. If the adrenaline wasn't high enough, it was now enough to take the top of my head off. After a short pause that seemed like hours, I realized there was no way the Germans could know our password and countersign, because they were given to us as we boarded the plane. I meekly asked, “Is that you Harry?" The reply was a beautiful German accented “Yah”. Harry and I joined up and started searching for others in our plane. By daybreak fifteen of the eighteen total in our plane had assembled. We then started our mission of winning WWII.
   Since this is a story about Harry, I am going to fast forward from the Normandy Campaign to Market Garden, the jump into Holland. Suffice it to say Harry was an extremely valuable asset to us in Normandy with his skills of interrogating prisoners. I never went on a patrol with Harry in Normandy, so I still had no indication of how he would react in a tight situation. In Holland I finally got my chance to see what he was made of. After the initial jump, the Market Garden operation soon turned into a static hold and defend situation. This was the condition where our S-2 Section was most active. We had many opportunities to infiltrate the German lines at night to search out information on gun emplacements, troop numbers and location, tanks, etc. Finally, on one cold, misty night Harry and I were assigned to the same patrol. There was a third member whose name I don't recall. We slipped through the lines undetected and spent several hours but found nothing. On the way back, we were not so lucky. We ran into a German outpost and were challenged with a stern ”HALT”. We immediately fell to the ground to become less of a target. My first thought was now what do we do. Harry immediately got up, walked right up to the sentry and said something like this in his perfect German: ”Hey my name is Hans. My companions and I have been out on patrol for several hours and are returning to our headquarters to report what we found. My company commander forgot to give me the password, so I don't know it. After exchanging a few words, the sentry passed us through. Being a foggy night with no light reflecting from the clouds the sentry could not see our uniforms so had go on what he heard; a reasonable request in perfect German.
   How wrong I had been about this naive, crybaby soldier. This was a brave, quick thinking, young man of whom everyone would be proud to know and have as a friend. To this day I am indebted to him for at most saving my life or preventing my being captured; at least from being in a fire fight from which who knows what the outcome would be.
   After Holland we went to France to regroup and then to the Bulge. By now Harry was one of us; a typical American GI getting into mischief and taking and enjoying any opportunity that presented itself.
   When the war ended, the Regimental Commander, Col. Mendez, arranged for Harry to go to Switzerland to visit his father. Needless to say Harry was a favorite of Col. Mendez.
   After the war Harry was assigned to a secret project of the U.S. Government. He was sworn to secrecy and would not tell what his mission was. Those of us who served with him speculate it was with the CIA in the search for war criminals. Harry joined the old Dept. of HEW ( Health, Education,& Welfare.) He rose to a relative high position before retiring.
   The last time I saw Harry was at a 508th regimental reunion in Florida in 2004. My wife and I ate dinner with him and his family at the reunion banquet. I asked him if he could say thunder yet. He replied resoundingly, ”Sure: Tunder”. We all had a great laugh.
   Harry died in 2010 at the age of 85.

 P.S. As I wrote this, remembering my earlier statement that hardened Paratroopers don't cry. Guess what: this one did.

Jody Lander

Copyright and all other rights reserved by the Family and Friends of The 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment Association or by those who are otherwise cited,
For problems or questions regarding this web site, please contact