The Man in the Middle by John L. Neel

On 3 October 1986, the infantry battalions of the Golden Brigade, the 3rd Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division, was reactivated as the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, taking us all back to our WWII roots. I immediately “affiliated” with the 505th PIR in my military records and still proudly wear the unit crest.

While in Division, I was always assigned to the 505th.

For the activation, the brigade contracted military artist James Dietz to paint a scene of the Regiment's first battle, Gela Sicily. The painting is posted in the 3rd Brigade Combat Team's headquarters building. Five-hundred and five prints of this painting were sold.

I bought Number 159.

As soon as it was hung in the old Ardennes Street HQ, my troopers and others who knew me in the regiment decided that the guy in the middle of the painting looked like me. I played along, telling people that I had been chosen because I was considered by the regiment as the best looking man in the unit and because Deitz thought I was the epitome of how a Paratrooper should look.

My soldiers countered that I was chosen because I was THERE at the 1943 jump into Sicily.

To some, no matter how clearly I spoke, I was the Man in the Middle.

Not long after delivery, we had a chance to meet Jim Dietz at the 82nd Museum, for a signing ceremony. I took my print straight over, stood in line like the rest, and waited my turn. Mr. Dietz was very friendly, engaging ever trooper in line.

When I got to the head of the line, I told Mr. Dietz how people said I looked like the guy in his painting. He looked up and said, "It's You!" Then he asked my name and personalized my print for me. As I stepped away, reading what he wrote, he said, "You owe me half of what you win in bets."

It took me a while to get it framed, probably four years. Kady took it to a shop and had a nice frame and mat cut to include some of my medals, my wings, my cap badge, and my patches. It has hung in my office since. It is part of my history.

It has been a long while since someone has asked me about it. As I get older, I worry that the truth may die with me and one day, my family may believe what Dietz wrote that day. To Be Clear – I was not in WWII, I did not pose for the painting, and I was not there at any beginning.

I am not The Man in the Middle.

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