bucking up

Arthur F. Gorham

Arthur Fulbrook Gorham (January 11 1915, Brooklyn, New York – July 12 1943, Sicily, Italy) was a U.S. Army officer and Paratrooper. Gorham was the first commander of the 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division. He led them from their inception to Operation Husky, the allied invasion of Sicily.

Early Life and Family

Gorham was born in Brooklyn, New York to James A. Gorham, Sr. (1890-1972) and Louise Fox Gorham (1885-1966). His brother was James A. Gorham, Jr. (November 26 1911May 15 2005).

While awaiting transportation from Governors Island in New York to his first assignment after graduating from West Point, Gorham renewed a previous acquaintance with Corrine “Colonel” Bennett (later Clarke) (October 21 1917October 20 2001). They had met for the first time a few years earlier at an Army football game. The two were married on June 21 1939 in Wichita, Kansas. The couple had one child, Colonel Bruce Bennett Gorham Clarke (born January 26, 1943 at Ft. Benning, GA). Clarke followed in his father's footsteps graduating from West Point, serving in an airborne unit, fighting in Vietnam at Khe Sanh and commanding at every level from a platoon to a brigade.


Gorham’s early schooling occurred in Brooklyn and, following the family’s move to Bellevue, Ohio, he graduated from Central High School. After graduation, having not secured a sought-after appointment to West Point, he attended Stanton Preparatory Academy in Cornwall, New York and Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. While at Miami he pledged the Ohio Alpha Chapter of Phi Delta Theta Fraternity but left for West Point before being initiated.

In 1934 Gorham joined the Class of 1938 at West Point. While at West Point, Gorham was known for pipe smoking and surviving academics. He played football for two years. Known for his easy-going way and love of jazz, Gorham graduated in the middle of his class and received a commission as an Infantry officer.

Early Career and Leadership Style

After less than two years with the 30th Infantry in San Francisco, Gorham moved to Fort Benning, Georgia. It was at this point in his short career that he began to stand out. As one of the early airborne qualified officers, he gained more rank and responsibility as the United States began to form parachute regiments and later airborne divisions.

In February 1942 then-Captain Gorham took his B Company, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment to Alta, Utah, where the United States was testing the concept of dropping paratroopers into the Alps behind the Germans and having them ski down to attack and harass their lines of communication. The troopers trained hard, but falling on skis was different than falling when landing in a parachute jump. There were many legs and ankles injured. Eventually the project was abandoned and the troopers were spread out to the newly forming parachute units.

In a 1989 article in Assembly, the magazine of the U.S. Military Academy's Association of Graduates, his son Bruce B.G. Clarke described Gorham's leadership style:

In researching the paraskiers I found Art Gorham described as “soft spoken.” Elsewhere he is described as "Hard-nose" Gorham because of his strictness and insistence on discipline within his battalion. Brigadier General Walt Winton has written: “he exemplified the good commander, demonstrating leadership, concern, initiative, and intelligence. One example of his leadership was his joining then Colonel Gavin and a few others in experimental free fall jumps. The normal static line jump was quite exciting enough for most. Art had an abiding concern for his subordinates. When the regiment made PCS [permanent change of station] moves to Camp Mackall and then to Fort Bragg, Colonel and Mrs. Gorham threw open their quarters on post to shelter others.

The article goes on to report this observation by General Winton:

Our radio call signs in that era were assigned rather whimsically, probably by the regimental communications officer, and Art's call sign was Hard-nose. Some of Art's subordinates do not believe that the emphasis on the call sign does justice to a great leader and a fine gentlemen.

In the summer of 1942 the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment was activated in the tarpaper shack Frying Pan area of Fort Benning, overlooking Lawson Army Airfield. Gorham, then a major, was assigned as commander of the 1st Battalion. There was no time lost in getting a hard training schedule started.

In Combat Jump: The Young Men Who Led the Assault into Fortress Europe, July 1943 (page 53), Ed Ruggero writes:

“Like Gavin, Gorham also spoke quietly. In spite of his youth, he had an almost fatherly demeanor. He shared the hardships and he treated the men with respect from the privates up…he had a genuine concern for their welfare. This didn’t mean the men of the First Battalion were coddled, in fact, it often meant the opposite. Gorham and the other airborne commanders believed the best thing for the men – the thing that came as close as anything could to guaranteeing they would make it home—was hard training.”

Operation Husky: The Invasion of Sicily

On the night of July 9, 1943, the Paratroopers of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment loaded aircraft and departed the coast of North Africa for the island of Sicily. The 1st Battalion, under the command of the 28-year-old Gorham spearheaded the first regimental-sized airborne assault. Winds were high as they jumped in the early morning hours of July 10 and the Paratroopers were scattered across and well beyond their drop zones. Assembling in little groups of Paratroopers, the men began to wreak havoc among the German and Italian defenders of Sicily. In the combat that followed, Gorham positioned himself and the few dozen stragglers he found on the high ground near Comico airfield. On July 11, when approximately ten German tanks and a battalion of infantry began to assault their position, and all of his men were lying as low as possible, Gorham was on his feet, dodging incoming fire and moving around the position, bucking up his outnumbered men. When one of the bazooka teams was killed, Gorham sprang for the weapon, loaded it himself, and went after one of the tanks. He hit the tank’s vulnerable side which set the tank on fire. Gorham then moved from point to point firing at the eye-slit of tanks, shouting encouragement to the men and directing their fire until the counterattack was beaten off. For his actions on July 11, 1943 Gorham was awarded the nation's second highest award for bravery, the Distinguished Service Cross.

The next day, July 12, Gorham and his little group of paratroopers came face to face with another German tank near Niscemi, Sicily. William B. Breuer in Drop Zone Sicily describes the action: Gorham “grabbed a rocket launcher and edged his way within range of a menacing Tiger Tank which had continued to roll forward. Gorham, out in the open and in full view of enemy tankers, kneeled to take aim at the tank. Gunners in the Tiger spotted the parachute leader and fired an 88mm shell at Gorham at point blank range. Gorham, hardnosed to the end, fell over dead." The Distinguished Service citation he was awarded for his actions reports: “Lieutenant Colonel Gorham personally manned a rocket launcher and destroyed one tank. While attempting to destroy another with hand grenades and a rifle, Lieutenant Colonel Gorham was killed.”This second description is consistent with the reports relayed to Gorham's family by Chicago Tribune reporter John Hall Thompson in December 1943.

There is some confusion about the actual date of Gorham's death. Army records list his date of death as July 11, 1941. His second Distinguished Service Cross citation lists the date as July 14, 1943. In Phil Nordyke's Four Stars of Valor, page 425, he explains: "Colonel's Gorham's death is listed in Army records as July 11, 1941. Both Captain Edwin Sayre, in his monograph written in 1947, and Dean McCandless, who was with Gorham when he was killed, state that Gorham was in fact killed during action that took place on July 12, 1943. McCandless states that he found Gorham's CP (command post) on the morning of July 11 and was put on outpost duty by Gorham that evening. He states that the next morning Gorham recalled him and they moved to Hill 41, where Gorham was killed."

For his actions on Sicily, Gorham was awarded two Distinguished Service Crosses. He was one of only five members of the 82nd Airborne during World War II to be twice awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The other four were General James M. Gavin, General Matthew B. Ridgway, Major General Reuben Henry Tucker III and Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin H. Vandervoort. Gorham was also posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, the Combat Infantryman Badge and a combat star to his jump wings.

In August 1948, Gorham's remains were returned to the United States. He was interred in Bellevue, Ohio in a family plot.

Tributes and Memorials

General Jim Gavin credited Gorham and his Paratroopers with much of Operation Husky's success: "Most of the combat success of the regiment in Sicily was due to Art and the men of his command. General Matthew Ridgway, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, probably put this in the best perspective when he wrote to Gorham’s widow, "The action which resulted in his death was typical of his inspiring leadership, for it was he that personally instilled the spirit of the attack at a time that those around him were thinking only of defense, and in person led the attack, which succeeded. His indomitable spirit acknowledged no odds.”

The tributes to Gorham include:

• On May 21 2008 the new headquarters of the 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment was named in Gorham's honor. During this ceremony a memorial was also dedicated to the members of the Battalion killed in the Global War on Terrorism.
• In 1998, a room in the Battalion’s former dining facility was named in Gorham’s honor.
• A street at Ft. Bragg is named for him.
• There is a memorial marker which bears his name near the 82nd Airborne Museum.
• Gorham's name is included among the 39 killed near Point Dirillo near Gela in Sicily.
• The DeMolay chapter, a youth leadership organization, affiliated with the Masons in his hometown of Bellevue, Ohio was previously named in Gorham's honor but it is no longer active.


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