James Carroll parachuted into a maze of canals and hedgerows 13 miles from the beach at Normandy to cut off German troops on D-Day, fought in Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands and stood fast at the Battle of the Bulge.
Despite fighting three of the most iconic battles in American history, Carroll kept quiet about it until recent years, and worked as a machinist and foreman at a downtown Minneapolis factory, commuted on bicycle from Bloomington long before Portland Avenue had a bike lane, and drove a school bus for 15 years.
He died March 28 of complications from diabetes. He was 93.
A native of St. Joseph, Mo., Carroll was 18 when he saw an Army paratrooper training film and enlisted in November 1942. He trained in Georgia, then shipped out with the 101st Airborne Division. He recalled training in Britain and studying maps of the French countryside to prepare for D-Day.
On June 5, the eve of the offensive, "it was still light at 11 p.m. … as they loaded the planes," Carroll said. Nearly 900 C-47 cargo planes were loaded with about 15 paratroopers each, he recalled. Each man wore more than 100 pounds of gear on his back, including a rifle, a belt of extra ammunition and three days of rations.
"We were side by side on both sides of the airplane," Carroll told the Star Tribune in 2014. "I remember when we hit the coast of France, the anti-aircraft [fire] and tracers starting coming up from the Germans. Some of our planes got hit."
He landed next to a waterway in the countryside, joined up with a bunch of other troopers, and secured a bridge.
Three months later, in September, he parachuted into Holland for Operation Market Garden, and two months after that he helped hold the line in the Belgian town of Bastogne against the German army in the Battle of the Bulge. Carroll was not wounded in any of those battles. In November 1945 he returned to Missouri.
After the war, his sister and her family were in Minneapolis and advised him to come here to find work. He lived with them until he landed a job as a machinist with Durkee-Atwood Co., an auto and industrial parts maker that used to have a factory on Nicollet Island.
There, a co-worker kept asking him to go on a date with his wife's sister-in-law. Finally, the colleague brought in a picture of the woman, named Effie. Carroll said, "Well, OK," and he called Effie and she said, "OK," said Carroll's daughter, Anita Carroll. The reluctant pair hit it off, got married and raised two children.
Carroll worked his way up to being a foreman and retired in the early 1980s, around the time Durkee-Atwood moved to New Hope. After retirement, he drove school buses in Bloomington, and the kids called him "Grandpa Jim."
He lived in Bloomington for 70 years, 60 of them in the same home. He loved baseball and softball, volunteered with the Boy Scouts, was "the dad of the neighborhood," his daughter said, and was good with his hands. "If he didn't have a tool at home, he'd make it," she said.
He didn't talk much about World War II for most of his life, because "nobody asked," his daughter said, but started to open up in later years, speaking at schools and community events.
In 2014 he received the Knight of the Legion of Honor Medal from France, the highest honor that country can bestow on a foreigner for deeds on French soil.
Asked if he was still proud of the nation he'd been willing to die for as a young man, his daughter said he was. "He said he would do it all over again if they called him," she said.
Carroll's wife died in 2007 and he is survived by his two children, Anita Carroll and David Carroll. Services have been held.