Diel, James Lee. “Punchy” , born, 03-03-1922, in Jasper County, Illinois the oldest child of James R. Diel and Nellie born Ebbert, Diel. He had a sister, Mary Jane born in 1923 and a brother Daniel Ebbert Diel born in 1924. Dan Diel, on the right, died of a stroke in 1995. The three children all attended a one room country school to obtain an elementary education. In the fall of 1936, the parents rented their farm out to a neighbor and bought a house in Newton, illinois. James Lee, Mary Jane, and Dan Elbert all went to Newton High School for 4 years.
“Punchy” attended military summer camp for the final two years of high school, graduating in 1940. He enlisted in the Army on 19-08-1942, and volunteered for the paratroopers. He was sent to Camp Toccoa, Georgia, and placed in E Company, 506th PIR. of the 101 Airborne Division, The 506 was Commanded by Colonel Robert Frederick “Bounding Bob” Sink, the 506th PIR was also referred to as the Five-Oh-Sink . Due to his previous military experience he was made Corporal and soon Sergeant. During training he became good friends with fellow Sergeant Bill “Wild Bill” Guarnere. Diel made his first combat jump on D-Day into Normandy . By then, he was platoon sergeant of 2nd platoon, with Major and Commander of the 506th, Easy Company Richard Davis “Dick” Winters promoting him to 1st Sergeant during the campaign after the loss of William Stanton, “Bill” Evans on D-Day when his plane crashed. Bill Evans flew on Plane #66 to Normandy on D-Day as part of Operation Overlord. The plane was hit by German antiaircraft fire, went down and exploded. Everyone on board, including Evans and Easy Company Commander Lieutenant Thomas Meehan were killed. At first, Evans was considered missing in action, and the telegram confirming his death arrived on 11-11-1944 to his family..Meehan’s remains were returned to the United States in 1952 and are now buried at the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery (Plot 84 25) at mass grave area on Circle Drive, just south of St. Louis, Missouri. He shares a grave site with the C-47 aircrew and fellow paratroopers of that flight.
When Easy returned to England, Diel was given a battlefield commission and promotion to 2nd Lieutenant. Due to the regiment regulations this meant he had to be assigned to another company. He was transferred to Able Company, 1st Battalion, 506th PIR. Diel made the jump into The Netherlands on September 17-09-1944, as part of Operation Market Garden.
Death and burial ground of Diel, Lee James “Punchy”.
On September 19th the Germans launched an attack led by tanks to try and destroy the newly built Bailey Bridge at Son. Diel single-handedly charged one of the Panther tanks with explosives, near my hometown Eindhoven to try and take it out. It fired and he was hit straight on with a shell, killing him. At the same time, Wild Bill Guarnere
had decided on some down time for Easy that he would go visit his buddy, Punchy. He arrived just after this fight and asked around Able for Diel, being informed by the guys in Punchy’s platoon that he had just been killed. Bill got his friend’s dogtags and was able to give them to his family after the war. Dick Winters said of Diel “As his platoon leader I had worked closely with Diel. He was the kind of soldier that made an outfit look good. He was highly motivated, entirely dependable, and he had a no-nonsense, low-key leadership style that commanded the respect of the men”
Colonel R. F. Sink, commandingthe 506th Parachute Infantry, wrote:“I am taking this opportunity of writing you to express my deepestregret and to extend my sympathyto you for the loss of your son, Second Lieutenant James Lee.Diel, who was killed in action in Holland.“Although he had not been with us long as an office, his exploits as anenlisted man were well known throughout the regiment. As he; probably told you, he was selected to be an officer as a result of his superior work and courage in Normandy.“I know you are very anxious to know how James met his death While bravely leading his platoonjf] against strong enemy opopsition, he was struck by enemy Panther gunfire and he died instantly. I know he felt no pain. Inspired by his courage his; men continued the attack and destroyed the enemy. His death is a serious loss to the regiment.“None of us wish to die, but if we must, we all want to go the way, your son did, leading his men against the enemy
Lieutenant Diel, Lee James “Punchy” is buried at the Margraten American Cemetery in Netherlands, Plot L, Row 1, Grave 8