Harold Eatman had just arrived at work on Dec. 7, 1941, when he got a call from his wife. The United States was at war.
"You know I’m going to have to go," he told her.
Eatman, whom an Army official describes as an airborne "legend," died last week at his Matthews home. He was 102.
Eatman was one of the last surviving World War II veterans who, as a member of the 82nd Airborne, took part in all four of the war's major combat jumps: Normandy, Sicily, Italy and Holland. By the time he died, only 16 of the 2,800 troops who made all the jumps were still alive.
“Harold Eatman was among the generation of All American paratroopers who defeated Nazism, liberated Europe, and inspired many generations of paratroopers to follow,” Lt. Col. Joe Buccino, spokesman for the 82nd Airborne, said in a statement to the Army Times. “We always say that when you wear the Double A patch, you walk among legends. One of those legends has passed.”
He also left a mark after the war in the Army Reserves and as a friend.
"He was just a principled person, he was just one of those people I admired most," said Cutter Davis, a family friend since childhood. "His example of service and sacrifice, he was just a giant to me."
In 1943, Eatman was with the 82nd when it landed in Sicily. After 41 days of combat there, he jumped onto the Italian mainland. Two months later his unit was off to England to prepare for D-Day. At midnight on June 6, they were loaded into C-47 transport planes.
"On the outside, there was a lot of talk and laughing as we helped each other strap on chutes and buckle our harnesses." he once recalled to the Observer. "But when those engines first crank up, they sound like they’re coming apart, like they’re a bucket of bolts.. . .
"We were not afraid, but aware of what could happen. It got real quiet, each man alone with his own thoughts."
For his exploits Eatman won a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart and the French Legion of Honor.
A funeral mass will be held 10 a.m. Wednesday at the Cathedral of St. Patrick, 1621 Dilworth Road East. Condolences may be left for the family at www.McEwenFS.com.