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Ski-jumping World War II hero

The Lake Placid team of ski jumpers leave LaGuardia Airport for Seattle, Washington, to compete in the U.S. National Ski Jumping Championship in February 1941. From left are Art Devlin, coach Stanley Benham, Torger Tokle, George Sherwood and Jay Rand Sr. Torger later joined the 10th Mountain Division ski troops and was killed in the first assault in the Apennine Mountains on Riva Ridge in Northern Italy. Jay Rand Jr. said his father told him that Torger could jump into the back of a pickup truck with his skis on. Art Devlin was a decorated World War II hero and flew many missions as a bombardier with his B-26 bomber crew. Torger’s brother Art Tokle Sr. was Jay Rand Jr.’s coach in the 1968 Olympic Winter Games in Grenoble, France. (Photo courtesy of Don and Judy Rand Scammell)

We are nearing the end of 2020 and nearing the end of the 75th anniversary of World War II. A copy of a 1941 Enterprise given to me by Tim Fortune carried a story about Lake Placid ski jumpers heading to a national meet in Seattle, Washington. That led to this story about ski jumping and the WWII heroism of Jay Rand Sr.

The Enterprise, Feb. 25, 1941

“A trio of Lake Placid’s crack ski jumpers left for New York where they will board a transcontinental plane tonight and fly to Seattle, Wash., to compete in the national meet on Sunday, March 2.

Jay Rand Sr. is the handsome paratrooper in the center. The picture was taken in the area of St. Mere-Eglise, Normandy, France, just after D-Day. (Photo courtesy of Don and Judy Rand Scammell)

“Accompanied by Coach Stanley Benham were Art Devlin, Torger Tokle, George Sherwood and Jay Rand, Sr., are making the trip to the northwest coast city. Rand, 19-year-old local boy, won the Salisbury Mills meet two weeks ago with a record leap of 184 feet.

“In the Lake Placid Club’s tourney last Saturday, Devlin and Rand placed second and third respectively, competing against the nation’s best. At Brattleboro, Vt., the following day, the pair repeated their performances to again take the two top positions. Sherwood, competing in Class B, won his division in both meets.”

The long trip to Seattle

(Don and Judy Rand Scammell filling in the gaps)

It turns out that the flight (the fuselage of that plane visible in the background looks more like a rocket ship) from LaGuardia to Seattle took two days to cross the USA, with 13 stops along the way.

The guys (there were no women in that Olympic sport) were there to compete in the National Ski Jumping Championships hosted by the Seattle Ski Club at Snoqualine Ski Bowl. Ski jumping had a huge following back in the day with skiers and fans, and the Lake Placid boys were well known nationally.

When the team arrived in Seattle, they were greeted by a Seattle Ski Club member, a German immigrant who owned a sporting goods shop and loved ski jumping. He took a liking to Rand and Devlin, took them out to dinners and gifted them skis, clothing and other gear.

That fellow who was so kind and generous to the Lake Placid boys went on to become quite famous himself … Eddie Bauer.

Art Devlin told Don that when they arrived at a certain competition, Jay had convoluted the binding on his skis to allow him to lift the boot heel off the ski. The bindings back then had the heel of the boot held firmly in place. Art said that Jay nearly over-jumped the hill that day, set a new record and changed the sport of ski jumping forever … but never patented his idea.

Rand in famed 82nd Airborne

(Excerpts from the Lake Placid News, March 1945)

“Jay Rand, Sr., joined the renowned 82nd Airborne Paratrooper Division at the beginning of WWII and engaged in six major European combat invasions: North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France (Normandy), Holland and Belgium.

“He was awarded the Bronze Star for heroic action in France and the Purple Heart for wounds received during the Battle of the Bulge.” [Historians say this was the single largest and bloodiest battle of WWII.]

Rand was hospitalized with wounds after the Battle of the Bulge. The Bronze Star citation reads:

“Pfc. Jay Rand, 505th Parachute Infantry, for heroic conduct in action on June 10, 1944, France. Pfc. Rand, despite enemy small arms fire, and from an exposed position, calmly fired his rifle grenades into the midst of the forming counterattack. His accuracy inflicted many causalities and dispensed the enemy, thus enabling his platoon to organize its defense and avert an enemy penetration.”

The real history is in letters home

It has been said many times that the most accurate description of what it is like to be in combat in war is contained in letters written by soldiers to their families. The following letter to his mother, Mrs. Mae Rand, was written by Pfc. Rand from a hospital in England on Dec. 23, 1944, two days before Christmas.

“We rushed from France to Belgium to help check the break thru. The fighting was wicked against our own tanks, which the Germans had captured. Another soldier and myself were dug in on a hill. The first night, a German halftrack came down the road and when about 25 yards away. I let go with a rocket and blasted the thing and it went up in flames. Not one German came out. After a quiet night the fireworks started with tracer slugs flying in all directions and trees crashing down from big shell bursts. About five tanks started thru the woods at us. We fired all our small ammunition. I had used almost 70 rounds of bazookas, the only artillery support we had. I shot single Germans as they sneaked thru the woods, cutting them in half. Our other team, a short distance away, was driven out of position, the entire machine gun crew being captured and taken back in the woods, lined up and shot, along with all the HQ bazooka men. That left the pair of us alone with just a bazooka and one round left.”

Desperate situation and getaway

“What was left of E Company was ordered to withdraw from the hill and to reform on the outskirts of a town. They forgot all about us. The company went on its way, my friend and I were there by ourselves. Trees crashed as our tanks with Germans in them came at us. I said, ‘This is the end. ‘Let’s get the H… out of here’ and sent the last rocket, never looking to see where it hit. We jumped out of the hole and made a break. I was in a bad way from the explosions and tension … remember going down a big hill and just before the end saw a drop of 30 feet.

“The Jerries had already set up machine guns on top of the hill and all I could see were the blasted tracers and hear the crack of them around. I didn’t give a hoot if they hit us as I was so tired anyway. I jumped off the drop and landed in a sand pile. I had an open stretch to go to reach the railroad tracks, the tracers smacking the tracks at my heels. How I ever reached the town I don’t know but the buildings there offered protection. I went thru in a daze and found my outfit. My buddy never came back. I just fell down then and started crying.

“I don’t fear death, only for your sake, the only thing I’m fighting for.

“One of these days I will get home and make up for these last three years.

“Regards to everyone.”

From Jay’s obituary

Jay died at age 77 on Oct. 17, 1999.

“Mr. Rand was one of the quiet heroes of the past. At 18 years old, he had gained international recognition as one of the major talents of his era in the sport of ski jumping.”

He was married to Eileen Hall of Bloomingdale, his wife of 54 years. They have three sons: Jay, Stephen and John Rand of Lake Placid; and three daughters: Judy Scammell of Lake Placid, Barbara Ryan of Horseheads and Mary Farr of Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

——

Jay Rand Jr., North Elba supervisor and Olympic ski jump competitor, contributed numerous details to this story. He was the first guy off the 120-meter Olympic ski jump in Lake Placid.

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