A little-known but memorable tale of D-Day

In June 1948, when just out of high school, I enlisted in the United States Army's 82nd Airborne Division. Virtually all the officers and noncommissioned officers in that small, all-volunteer unit had served in World War II. In my unit were men who had parachuted into such places as North Africa, Sicily, Normandy, the Netherlands, and Corregidor. Most of their talk about the war was good-natured chiding about which unit had won the war or saved a certain other unit during the Battle of the Bulge. But once in a while I learned something a little different. Here's one I recall:

One of the longtime soldiers described how, a few days before D-Day, his parachute battalion had been sealed into a marshaling area surrounded by barbed wire and patrolled by military police.

After they'd been briefed on where and when they would jump and what their mission was, they were not allowed any further outside contact. No passes, visitors, or phone calls. Their outgoing letters would not leave until they did. They did receive incoming mail and packages, though, and one of this soldier's friends received a box from home. It contained cookies and other food, including a new cereal that looked like tiny doughnuts.

None of them had ever seen Cheerios before.

It tasted good even munched dry, without milk. But these soldiers decided the cereal could be put to better use. They poured the cereal into empty K-ration boxes and walked around the marshaling area asking, "Did you guys get the new dehydrated doughnuts? Just soak 'em in water for a while and they swell up."

Men who were cleaning their rifles, sharpening knives, or writing what might be their last letter home stopped to accept a "dehydrated doughnut."

All over the camp, tough and heavily armed paratroopers who would soon jump into one of the great battles of the war spent some of their final hours in England swirling water in their canteen cups, watching for a small, round piece of cereal to turn into a doughnut.

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