Thursday, August 11, 2016

Former 82nd Paratrooper John Diffin, 94, is a link to the past

SFA Commo Sgt remarks: I once saw a t-shirt that said "Paratroopers Don't Die,...They go to Hell and Re-Group".  And in another tribute to Paratroopers, there was a poster with a World War II era Paratrooper standing with a 2.75 inch rocket launcher and a M-1 Garand slung on his shoulder talking to retreating Army Tanks during the Battle of the Bulge with the caption " Looking for a safe place to park that tank?......pull in behind me. I'm the 82nd Airborne and this is as far as the bastards are coming."

John Diffin bristled a little under all the attention. The retired sergeant major had been at Womack Army Medical Center for days, but proudly said he only hit his alert button once or twice. And even then, all the old paratrooper wanted was a razor.

"I hadn't shaved in two days," Diffin said from his hospital bed, where he was being treated for having fluid in his lungs. "Even in war time, I shaved every day."

Diffin is that rare veteran, a lifetime paratrooper who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam before his retirement in 1975. At that time, he was the last serving World War II veteran in the 82nd Airborne Division and had earned seven Purple Hearts, seven Bronze Stars and two Soldier's Medals.

But while his service is decades behind him, and the 94-year-old is unlikely to jump from another airplane, Diffin remains a link to the past for one of the nation's most storied fighting divisions. Growing up in the Depression, Diffin said his family had it better than most. His father always had a job, he said. His family was well supported. But when war broke out in Europe, the young man was eager to play his part. At first, Diffin went to work in a shipyard. But soon, he set out to play a more direct role.

Some recruiters turned him down, he said. Then, just as he was set to join the Army on his own, he was drafted. When representatives of the Army airborne, then still a relatively new force, visited Diffin and his fellow new trainees, he was one of two men to volunteer.

That would get him sent to the 82nd Airborne Division, which he joined in England just before the invasion of Normandy. Diffin fought in France and Holland with the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment. He said the 82nd had the best soldiers in the war effort and leaders who have gone down in Army legend. "We never lost a firefight," the retired paratrooper said, his chest still puffing out with pride.

After the war, Diffin was forced out of the Army, but the Army couldn't keep him away. In 1948, he re-enlisted. Diffin served with the 187th Airborne Infantry Regiment in Korea and the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam, but it was the 82nd Airborne that always had his allegiance. "I served in every regiment of the 82nd," he said. "I never wanted to be anything else."

Diffin said he's not sure how many jumps he made in his career, although he recorded enough to earn his master parachutist badge. Today's force is much different from when Diffin served. But that doesn't make it any less impressive, he said. "The 82nd right now is the best Army in the whole world," he said.

Diffin, who lives in Fayetteville, ran an auto salvage yard after his Army retirement. He said he's only recently begun to slow down. He said he's still in relatively good health. "My heart is good," he said patting his chest.

"I made 82," Diffin said of his age before chuckling to himself. "I'm going for 101. I know I'm never going to make 187 or 505."

Article from the Fayetteville Observer

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