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The Cow Spoke French

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The Cow Spoke French

The Story of Sgt. William True, American Paratrooper in World War II
  • by William True and Deryck Tufts True
    • Merriam Press World War 2 Memoir Series
      • Second Edition 2007
      • 398 6x9-inch pages
      • 59 B&W photos, illustrations, maps
  • William True passed away March 20, 2017
This is the true story of William True, a paratrooper who served with Company F, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, from training at Camp Toccoa, Georgia, through Normandy, Holland, Bastogne and the Battle of the Bulge, to Alsace and Berchtesgaden.
     Now that Easy Company of the 506th PIR has been made famous by "Band of Brothers," it is Fox Company's turn, and Bill and Deryck tell the story of the men of that "band of brothers" in a moving, memorable account.
     The Cow Spoke French is a collaborative project. The two creators are Sergeant William True, an American paratrooper who took part in all the battle campaigns of the 101st Airborne Division in Europe, and his eldest son Deryck, who served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam era.
     The thrust is to bring alive the human experience of the combat veteran in a way that is immediate and personal to the reader. Though the subject of World War II has been covered extensively in print over the last 50-odd years, the book is refreshingly unique in both approach and format.
     A traditional third-person narrative is created by the son, Deryck, based on extensive interviews with his father and other veterans, along with appropriate research of well-known historical sources. Original photographs and custom maps are included. The story emphasizes the day-to-day reality of a combat soldier, which has often and correctly been described as ‘long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of stark terror.’ There is no mask for the harsh fact of men killing one another. And while courageous actions are depicted at length, human failings are also a reality for men at war. This truth also is not avoided. Still the pathos, sentimentality, and even occasional humor of life for troopers in the field are very much a part of the chronicle, including ribald tales of cat-house misadventure. This book is neither for the squeamish nor the prude.
     The book is interspersed with personal accounts written by Bill True himself. Each account fits into the narrative chronologically and by its nature, gives readers an intimate connection to the story.
     We believe this approach will accomplish two things which are normally not possible for a single author. A soldier in the field has the real-life ‘in-your-face’ experience of combat. This will be vividly revealed in Bill’s writings. But individuals are almost always isolated on the battlefield, often begging news from the home front to discover the big picture of which they play a vital part. The third-person narrative puts the soldier’s story into context within the broader military events and movements surrounding it.
     The title The Cow Spoke French derives from Bill True's jump into Normandy at 1:20 a.m. on June 6, 1944. Parachuting from his plane into France amid a hail of machine gun and anti-aircraft fire, Bill landed in a pasture next to a very placid and unconcerned Normandy cow. Grateful for having survived the jump, he spoke a friendly greeting to her, but received no response. Why not? Because the cow spoke French.
  • Dedication
  • Foreword
  • Prologue
  • The Wild Blue Yonder: Transition to Army Life
  • Separating Men From Boys: Camp Toccoa and Currahee Mountain
  • The Silver Badge of Courage: From Fort Benning to the Overseas Transport Samaria
  • Thatch Roofs and Warm Beer—England: The Run-up to D-Day
  • Invasion: “The Cow Spoke French”
  • Rat Killin’: The Normandy Campaign
  • Long Drills and Short-Arm Inspections: The Lull Between Storms
  • A Narrow Road Too Long—Holland: Operation Market Garden
  • The Screaming Meemies: Life on “The Island”
  • White Christmas in a Foxhole: Bastogne and the Battle of the Bulge
  • “Wie Eins Lili Marlene”: From Alsace to Berchtesgaden
  • Kilroy Was Here! 85 Points Gets a Ticket Home
  • Epilogue
  • Acknowledgements
  • Appendices Bibliography
    • Normandy KIAs
    • Old Army #849: A History of 1st Lt. Wayne King’s Favorite Aircraft
    • Graves Registration: Interview with Col. Elbert Legg
    • D-Day Message from Dwight D. Eisenhower
    • “Nuts!”—German Surrender Demand and Christmas, 1944 Message at Bastogne
    • A Coincidence of Dates
    • “The Recruit”: A Ballad by Bill True
F/506th has now become perhaps the most documented company in a well-documented regiment, as historian Bill Brown spent at least 2 decades writing a company history of Kidnap Fox, and at least one other personal memoir was authored by Sgt John H. Taylor.
     The Cow Spoke French is a new personal experience memoir by Bill True, who went from Toccoa to Austria as a member of Company F, 506th PIR. Many of you have seen Bill as a talking head on The History Channel. He is a natural born storyteller. This memoir is filled with the kind of details that Airborne history buffs are seeking, telling what day to day life was like, in both garrison and combat, for a 101st Airborne paratrooper. Bill's narrative doesn't gloss over the unusual or controversial and is always presented with the humorous, matter of fact personality of it's author. You will get considerable insights into some of the men Bill served with, as well.
     The details of training in Camp Toccoa are the best I've seen yet, and I really loved the Normandy chapters—especially coverage of Bloody Gulch, and the Bastogne section. The book does include some photos but they are not the outstanding element of the book. For the information alone, you'll find it well worth the read, and some of Bill's stories would qualify for inclusion in my 'Forbidden Tales' book.
—Mark Bando, on his web site Trigger Time: 101st Airborne, WW2
The world of the combat soldier is a very isolated one. The focus of his memories is often narrow, as during combat he is more concerned with what is over the next hill or behind a nearby building than the movement of regiments or divisions. As a result of this very understandable circumstance, many of the memoirs of soldier-authors suffer. While a particular action or event may loom large in a writer's memory, it has little meaning to someone unfamiliar with the details of a particular battle or how a given incident fits into the larger picture of the war.
     Fortunately, The Cow Spoke French does not suffer from these shortcomings. The book is a wonderful combination of eyewitness testimony as well as a solid overview of the actions of Company F, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.
     Many readers may recognize William True, a masterful storyteller who has frequently spoken of his World War II experiences on television documentaries. In the book, True elaborates on many of these stories and provides a few new ones. In all of his writing, William provides the sort of detail and immediacy that is a huge attraction of first-person accounts.
     Around each of these tales, however, is a historical narrative provided by his son, Deryck True. The younger True has spent a good deal of time researching his father's regiment, and he bridges the gaps in the elder True's accounts. The result of this father-and-son effort is a book that provides tantalizing insights into the wartime experiences of one American paratrooper while also making the exploits of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment more accessible to a wide range of readers.
—Christopher J. Anderson, review in World War II Magazine, November 2003
Author William True graduated from SDSU in 1948, the first in his family to go to college and this was the result of the GI Bill. In the Fall/Winter 2003 edition of this publication, a very brief mention of his book was made on page 35.
—360: The Magazine of San Diego State University
What a wonderful story concerning your D-Day experiences! I'll never forget you, standing in the door of your C-47 on June 6, 1944 over Normandy. Keep writing—you are good a it. And keep the copies of what you write on the war coming down to me. I can't get enough of them.
—Stephen E. Ambrose, historian and author of Band of Brothers, D-Day: The Climactic Battle of World War II, and many others, excerpted from personal correspondence to the author
After interviewing over 930 WWII survivors of the 101st Airborne, I can attest that there is no more personable storyteller than Bill True. His easy-going and humorous approach to viewing even the most terrifying events is reflected in the title of the book itself. It also runs throughout his narrative and helps explain how he was able to mentally cope with his WWII experiences. His detailed account of the training at Cap Toccoa is the best I've seen, and there are other surprises in the battle-related stories. In all, a fascinating experience.
—Mark Bando, historian and author of The 101st Airborne at Normandy, Breakout at Normandy, The 101st Airborne: From Holland to Hitler's Eagle's Nest,
and others
The Cow Spoke French provides some tantalizing insights into the wartime experiences of one American paratrooper and in so doing, provides the reader with a greater understanding of the men who belonged to one of the most successful combat units of World War II. I highly recommend this book.
—Chris Anderson, Editor, World War II Magazine
Whether you're a combat veteran yourself, as I am, or just someone who'd like to know more about genuine wartime experiences, The Cow Spoke French is for you. Veterans will recognize its truth, and rare taste of reality. You may not smell the cordite of an exploding 88mm shell from a German tank, or feel the hot air from machine gun tracers brushing your hair, but you'll have a real sense of it. Bill True's experiences in Fox Company, closest unit in the regiment to our Easy Company, were of course similar to many of mine. As a guy who was there, I can tell you this is the real thing. Man, I loved this book!
—Sgt. William "Wild Bill" Guarnere, Co. E (Band of Brothers), 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division
The Cow Spoke French is a joint endeavor between a father and son. Bill True, the father, served as a paratrooper in Fox Company of the 2nd Battalion of the famous 506th Parachute Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division. True relates his wartime experiences as a member of the First Platoon fitting them in with the experiences of close members of his squad. The son, Deryck True, provides an overview in third-person and fits the actions of his father and buddies into the big picture.
—George E. Koskimaki, veteran of and widely regarded as the "first historian" of the 101st Airborne Division; author of D-Day with the Screaming Eagles,
Hell's Highway, and The Battered Bastards of Bastogne
While I was searching the Writer's Market and the internet for publishing companies for some of my personal stories of World War II, I found Merriam Press with a wealth of wonderful books. I saw one that really excited me because I know the author personally: The Cow Spoke French by Bill True and Deryck True.
     I am an avid reader, especially about World War II. I was disappointed that Merriam Press does not publish fiction.
     Bill and Deryck's book is truly remarkable with a detailed account of parachute training, battles and feelings and emotions of Sgt. True and his fellow paratroopers during every aspect of his World War II experiences. What a magnificent story he and Deryck told with all the wonderful pictures included.
     In 1944 and 1945 I served in the Army Nurse Corps in New Guinea and Luzon, Philippines. My book, Magical Love in Tropical Hell, based on my experiences at that time was published by Publish America in 2006.
     I worked in a supervisory position in the nursing department at San Gabriel Valley Medical Center for 25 years. I knew Bill and Jane True very well. I retired in 1987.
—Lillian M. Taylor, Laguna Woods, California

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