LYNN HAVEN — Ted Vetland (picture right) is one of just four surviving members of Company A, a group of Airborne troopers who landed in Normandy early in the morning of D-Day and fought in the Battle of the Bulge.
Vetland, 89, was a member of The Screaming Eagles — the 101st Airborne Division — and the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. The 506th’s E Company, which served alongside A Company, has been chronicled in the cable mini-series “Band of Brothers,” based on the book of the same title.
The Norway native, who came to America for work in 1939, joined the Army in the summer of 1942, when he was 21. He said he signed up because he “probably would have been drafted” and wanted to serve with a volunteer unit.
Vetland trained in Georgia for about a year, and then in the English countryside, where he said his company practiced just one jump before parachuting into Normandy on June 6, 1944.
The men lived in stables, four to a stall, for the nine months they spent in England, he said. The company headquarters was the back of a pub.
Vetland received a Purple Heart for his service on D-Day; he was shot above his right knee as he held up a convoy of trucks headed to Utah Beach, which served as the right flank anchor of the allied offensive landing. He called the 1 a.m. jump a “mess.”
“First of all, when we landed, I had no idea where I was,” Vetland said. “We were 7 miles from where we were supposed to be. I found six men from my company — none from my airplane; I never saw them.”
The trooper also earned a Silver Star during the Siege of Bastogne, part of the larger Battle of the Bulge, where he said he “knocked out two tanks with a bazooka.” Vetland, who served as a platoon sergeant, also earned a Bronze Star for capturing eight German soldiers in occupied Holland during Operation Market Garden.
Vetland said he was wounded a second time, by a small hand grenade, as he and a comrade captured the men. The two were on a night patrol when they heard someone coming up the road and decided to capture, not kill, the soldiers.
“You could tell by the boots it was Germans,” he said. “We thought, if we captured them, we might learn something. We saw a little flash; we knew what was coming.”
After recovering, he was sent to England, but volunteered to go back to France to meet up with his company.
He served through the end of the war, and met his wife of 61 years, Bette, at a work party in New Jersey the first time he was back in civilian clothes.
The couple dated for about three years — while Bette said Ted “was unwinding” — before they married, had two children, and moved to Lynn Haven in 1974.
They reunited with the men from Vetland’s company, who Bette described as “characters” and some of the kindest men she had ever met, every year up until about two years ago.
“We ran out of people,” Vetland said. “It was sad to see them, one by one, go.”
He and Bette, 85, will leave their fate on this Veterans Day up to their cat.
“We got a great cat,” Vetland said. “It comes into bed with us, and we decide what we’re going to do.”
They’ll decide whether they want to have breakfast or lunch at the local senior center, he said, where he and Bette play dominoes and chat with friends every Tuesday and Thursday.
“We got a great senior center,” Vetland said. “You’d swear it was a bunch of kids out there, laughing and having a good time.”